The Atlantic League Independent (Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), one of four independent leagues designated as MLB’s official associate leagues following MiLB’s reorganization in 2020, will return to the traditional method of calling balls and strikes in the 2022 season.
The league had adopted the Automated Ball-Strike (ABS) system, known colloquially as ‘robot-ump’, prior to the 2019 season, when it reached an agreement with Major League Baseball to test rule and team changes being considered for use in affiliated ball:
The league will also return the distance between pitching rubber and home plate to the conventional 60 feet 6 inches after a late-season trial of an extra foot was not well received by players and managers.
The change in the strike zone is likely due to the expectation of a more widespread implementation of ABS in the minor leagues; There has been no official announcement, but MLB posted job listings for an ABS technician to work with each team in Triple-A West (the successor to the Pacific Coast League) earlier this offseason. The technology was also implemented in Low-A Southeast (the revamped Florida State League) in 2021 and the 2019 Arizona Fall League.
Though just one of several rule changes proposed by the commissioner’s office during Rob Manfred’s tenure, the proposed automation (and thus standardization) of the strike zone has proven to be one of the most polarizing.
Beyond the older infighting over the relative values of innovation and tradition, proponents of the idea have suggested that a strike zone standardized by precise technological measurements would substantially reduce the element of human error in refereeing decisions (and, perhaps reversing the trend of declining contact rates).
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While opponents argue that the vagueness, ambiguity, and idiosyncrasies of individual referees, as well as the arguments that often arise as a result of this, add intrigue and drama to the game.