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Robot umpires to be used in Triple-A for 2022, per report

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The exact method of usage remains unclear

Chicago Cubs v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

According to the Associated Press, robot umpires will be used in at least one division in Triple-A in 2022.

This report appears to be on the basis of a job posting on MLB’s website, seeking Automated Ball and Strike (ABS) operators to run the systems. Judging by the job posting, the robo-umps will be used in the Triple-A West and Low-A Southeast leagues, as well as “other non-MLB games and venues” in 2022.

The job posting does not explicitly say how the ABS systems will be used, only that the hired techs will “leverage optical tracking data to determine and communicate ball and strike calls to plate umpires” and that the league wants to collect data to evaluate the performance of the ABS systems. This description does not make it clear whether the system will actually dictate to the umpires whether a pitch is a ball or a strike or if the system determination on a pitch will merely be communicated to the umpires as a datapoint to consider in their own judgement of the pitch. In other words, umpires may or may not still have discretion to override the ABS system as it is planned to be used in 2022.

Regardless of the details of how the ABS system will be used, this is a big step from MLB to use the ABS system in Triple-A, only one level down from MLB. This would seemingly indicate that use of the ABS system is being strongly considered at the MLB level in the near future, assuming the testing goes well. Further, it has substantial but unclear implications for the umpiring pipeline, as newly-needed MLB umpires are drawn from the Triple-A ranks, and at least some of those umpires will now have direct experience interfacing with some kind of ABS system. We still don’t know when some kind of beyond-just-a-human-umpire system may hit the MLB level, but unless you were expecting some degree of robo-umps in Triple-A in 2022, it might be time to adjust your priors and expectations at least a smidgen towards the “sooner” end.

To close this article out, here is a video of some bad ball/strike calls from the beginning of the 2021 season.