IS THE COMPUTER BETTER THAN THE UMPIRES? Although I have long been sympathetic to efforts to call balls and strikes more accurately, I found K.M.McFarland’s article somewhat disquieting. McFarland points out the major problem: “…the cameras stop tracking the ball a few feet from the plate, instead analyzing the trajectory to come up with a predicted location within an inch of where it actually shows up.” McFarland quotes the president of SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research): “One inch is an enormously wide error band around which to call balls and strikes.” It is troubling that if an umpire and the algorithm differ by an inch, it is assumed that it is the umpire who is wrong.
I have another concern that McFarland does not discuss. The algorithm the computer uses gives “a predicted location” for where the ball winds up. However, the rectangular front part of home plate is eight and a half inches deep, and a pitch which crosses the any portion of home plate should be a strike. And most pitches are breaking horizontally when they reach home plate. Pitches are also dropping as they cross home plate so that a pitch that is in the strike zone when it crosses the front of the plate can be below the strike zone when it crosses the back of the plate. Does the algorithm call strikes that cross only part of the plate in the strike zone?