NEW BRITAIN - When four members of the New Britain Bees take the field in York on Wednesday for the Atlantic League All-Star Game, they will be embarking on the first major step towards a potentially groundbreaking change in Major League Baseball.
Wednesday’s All-Star Game will mark the first time the Atlantic League will utilize the assistance of an automated ball-strike system (ABS), as part of a partnership with MLB that has already seen the system tested a number of times at New Britain Stadium, and other parks throughout the league, through the first half of the season.
Now, the system is ready to be put to the official test, and the All-Star selections will be the test subjects, stepping into the batter’s box or up the pitcher’s mound and staring at an umpire behind the plate as always, only that umpire will be calling balls and strikes based on the readings of a consistent strike zone, as the home plate umpires will be notified through an earpiece whether the pitch was a ball or a strike. In short, the human error will be all but eliminated.
For the Bees that will be playing in the All-Star Game, Wednesday’s action will be another glimpse at the future, one they took in at Peoples Bank Park just over a week ago, when they faced the York Revolution while testing and preparation for the All-Star Game was underway.
“It was a little delayed from the pitch being read to it being fed to the umpire, so that’s a difference,” pitcher Devin Burke said, who pitched the opening game of the series at York last week, and will be back on the mound for Wednesday’s All-Star Game. “It looks like the corners have tightened up, but the up and down seems to be a bit expanded. They were calling a lot of high strikes that hitters traditionally thought were called balls. It’s going to be a bit of an adjustment for hitters and pitchers to get a feel for what is and what isn’t called anymore, but overall I just hope it aids the accuracy of the game.”
Burke wasn’t the only Bees All-Star to share the same assessment of the strike zone, at least through its test run phases. Should the automated strike zone maintain the shape it had last weekend, they believe hitters will be in for a major adjustment.
“I liked how accurate it was with inside and outside pitches, but it needs some work with the up and down,” catcher Logan Moore said, who had a glimpse of the zone from behind the plate and alongside it. “It’s a little too tall. There’s going to be a lot of complaining going on and there’s not really anything you can do. It’s not the umpire’s fault anymore. I get the idea. It’s not bad, but with some adjustments I think it can be good.”
Wednesday could bring some of those adjustments if the early test runs by MLB showed a zone that was too tall, but should it remain the same, the Bees believe there will still be plenty of work to do before it gets taken to the next level.
“It’s gotta be accurate,” Moore said. “There are still some flaws, like with breaking balls that end up down but look OK. I don’t know how you can really fix that. The human error with umpires has been part of the game for a long time. I just don’t see it ever getting to that point, but who knows. There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on in baseball, so it can happen. I think it could be a good thing. I just haven’t seen enough of it yet.”
Whether any tweaks are made or not, the Bees’ All-Stars are already changing their approach to satisfy the new, uniform strike zone.
“I sometimes need a little off the corners just to help with me being successful,” Burke said. “Guys with good velocity might have success with their ball being up. Down is where I’ll be making my living. I like to keep the ball down because I don’t throw that hard. Changing eye levels will be good for me. In and out, I’ll just have to be really precise with it.”
MLB and the Atlantic League will be hoping that the ABS will be precise and provide a successful experience with the league’s best on the field. The Bees still have their questions regarding its sustainability, but when it comes to the mindset of MLB, it is the goal that ABS is coming to professional baseball, and Wednesday will be a big step toward that reality.
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org