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Robo umps? Not so fast. Here’s what MLB’s technology upgrade means



Major League Baseball hopes to refresh its ball- and player-tracking technology with a new optical-based system that could add even more statistical bells and whistles to the game — but won’t necessarily bring the league any closer to replacing ball-and-strike umpires with an automated strike zone.

The league’s plan to switch from its current radar- and camera-based systems to a single device manufactured by Hawk-Eye — the company whose electronic line judge revolutionized tennis — was outlined in a memo sent to teams and first reported by The Athletic. While no signed contract for the Hawk-Eye system is complete, sources tell ESPN, MLB is aiming for all 30 major league stadiums to be fully outfitted with it by the All-Star Game.

The current technology, which marries TrackMan’s radar system following the ball with six cameras that track player movement, provides the backbone for the league’s Statcast system. Since its introduction in late 2014, Statcast has revolutionized the game and introduced into its lexicon the concepts of exit velocity, launch angle and spin rate.

Optical tracking uses cameras to capture movement, whether a ball or human beings, and the Hawk-Eye system will require up to 12 additional cameras to be installed around stadiums. Between the expected accuracy of its spin-rate data and tracking of both pitches and players, Statcast 3.0 using Hawk-Eye could deepen team and public understanding of the game being played — and do plenty more.

Track the kinematics, or movement patterns, of every player on the field, including pitchers, whose injuries could potentially be mitigated? Perhaps. Give greater insight into the path that bats take during swings and allow hitters superior control? Certainly.

Lead to robot-ump revolution? Probably not.

The calls for an automated strike zone have grown louder in recent years as technology helped turn fans into instantaneous umpiring ombudsmen. The Hawk-Eye system could be accurate to within a few millimeters, perhaps a centimeter, an improvement upon the current one. The far greater concern regards the concept of the zone itself and how certain calls could play publicly.

If the strike zone is three-dimensional – 17 inches wide, 17 inches deep, with the back corners cut at an angle, from the hollow of the knees to around the belly button – an automated zone runs the risk of rewarding pitches that simply don’t look like strikes. Such scenarios are not particularly common but could threaten the credibility of an automated zone with the public. Sliders can clip the front corner of the prism as they’re bending outside. High curveballs can drop into the zone at the back of the plate. There is, of course, a relatively easy fix for this: change the strike zone to a fixed plane, whether it’s the front of the plate, the middle of the plate or perhaps the area where the most strikes would be called.

While there are a number of proponents for an automated strike zone, sources said, currently it is not a high priority for MLB. There almost certainly would not be buy-in from players, either, and baseball is typically deliberate with such fundamental change. The solution could be a combination of humans and technology, which MLB plans to test in the independent Atlantic League this year by having automated strike-zone calls piped into earpieces worn by umpires, who then would use their judgment whether to overrule a call. Since home-plate umpires won’t be going away anytime soon – they’re still needed for plays at the plate, interference calls, check swings and more – the success of the human-tech combination would help the automated zone would receive increased consideration.

More important in the short term is keeping up with rapidly evolving technology. Because MLB prohibits teams from installing their own systems in stadiums, the onus is on the league to pursue bleeding-edge technology. Statcast was refreshed in 2017 with the introduction of the TrackMan radar, and MLB’s desire to upgrade again — almost like people do with their phones — led to the likely adoption of Hawk-Eye.

Technology in particular has evolved rapidly. Nearly every organization in MLB uses high-speed, slow-motion versions to capture pitch grips and frame-by-frame mechanical breakdowns. Others are tooling with machine-learning technology in hopes of unearthing the next great advantage.

And MLB anticipates the next version of Statcast being a literal and figurative game-changer likewise. The camera system is far likelier to capture every ball hit — the league says today’s tracks only nine of 10 batted balls — and will test that hypothesis and plenty more in the second half.

That’s when the Hawk-Eye system is expected to be functional. Teams will be given access to the data, according to sources, when it’s installed in all 30 stadiums. And if the data is solid and its fidelity confirmed, Hawk-Eye is expected take over in 2020 and offer the newest iteration of the technology that helped change the game.

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Tigers vs. Rays – Game Recap – August 17, 2019



ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Mike Brosseau’s pinch-hit RBI single in the 13th inning drove in Eric Sogard to give the Tampa Bay Rays a 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers on Saturday night.

Sogard doubled off Matt Hall (0-1) with two outs and Tommy Pham was intentionally walked. Brosseau, batting for pitcher Colin Poche, singled to right-center field for the Rays’ first run since Wednesday, ending a streak of 29 scoreless innings.

Rays pitchers struck out a franchise-record 24 batters, including 13 in 20 hitless at bats against relievers. Six Tigers hitters struck out at least three times.

Poche (3-4) got the win after striking out two of the three Tigers he faced in the 13th.

The win kept the Rays one-half game ahead of Oakland for the American League’s second wild-card spot.

Detroit’s final hit was Niko Goodrum‘s one-out double in the seventh off Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough. The next eight Tigers struck out against three different relievers.

Yarbrough, who came one out short of pitching the Rays’ first complete game in three years on Sunday, is 6-0 with a 1.43 ERA over 56 2/3 innings in his last 11 appearances. He gave up three hits while striking out 10 in 6 1/3 innings.

Detroit starter Jordan Zimmermann allowed only one baserunner — on Pham’s double — in five innings, throwing 63 pitches and striking out five.

In nine at bats in the first two games of the series, Miguel Cabrera has struck out seven times and grounded into a double play.


Since allowing a double to Boston’s Andrew Benintendi, the first batter he faced as a Ray, Nick Anderson has retired 21 straight, 17 by strikeout. He struck out the side in the eighth inning Saturday. Anderson was acquired in a trade from Miami on July 31.


Tigers: C Grayson Greiner (lower back strain) moved from Class A Lakeland to Triple-A Toledo for the final step of his rehab process.

Rays: 2B Brandon Lowe, out since July 3 with a bruised right shin bone, will play with Class A Charlotte through Sunday at which time it will be determined if he will join Triple-A Durham. “It will be depended on if everybody feels he’s moving well,” manager Kevin Cash said. “If not we’ll just keep him at Charlotte.”


Tigers: LHP Matthew Boyd (6-9) will pitch Sunday’s series finale. He has given up 11 earned runs over eight innings in his last two starts.

Rays: RHP Trevor Richards was added to the taxi squad from Triple-A Durham and is lined up to start or follow an opener Sunday. Acquired from Miami on July 31, Richards went 3-12 in 23 games, including 20 starts, for the Marlins.

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Yanks’ Boone, Gardner ejected again for ump tiff



NEW YORK — Manager Aaron Boone, Brett Gardner and the New York Yankees again hammered away at the umpires Saturday, this time in prolonged rants that brought several members of the team spilling onto the field, while beating the Cleveland Indians 6-5.

For the third time in a month — each time with a minor league call-up umpire behind the plate — the team with the best record in the American League lost its temper in a big way. This episode led to Boone and Gardner as well as pitcher CC Sabathia, who is on the injured list, all being ejected.

The trouble began in the sixth inning after Triple-A ump Ben May called out Cameron Maybin on strikes. The final pitch to Maybin was, according to strike zone charts, a bit outside. He calmly stood and discussed it with May and went back to the bench.

Moments later, things heated up in a hurry.

Boone came rushing from the dugout to confront May, and engaged in an animated argument. When Boone returned to the bench, all seemed calm — for a moment, anyway.

That’s when Boone came back for another go at May, with crew chief Tom Hallion coming in from second base, trying to quell the beef. But at the same time, several Yankees were hollering from the dugout, engaging in a close-up argument with first-base ump Phil Cuzzi.

“Just in that couple innings, obviously we objected to a few calls,” Boone explained after the game. “I start in there not wanting to get one of our guys if I can out of that game, but you know I had some issues where I felt like something might have affected another, might affect [James] Paxton being in that game, so just voiced it.”

Gardner was then ejected after banging his bat against the dugout roof — it’s become his habit when he gets upset — and then he climbed over the railing to continue to the dispute with Cuzzi. Coaches Phil Nevin, Marcus Thames and Josh Paul also were on the field, holding back Gardner, who was also arguing with third-base umpire Todd Tichenor.

“Kinda crazy to be honest,” Gardner said. “Got ejected for hitting the top of the dugout with my bat, making too much noise I guess. I wasn’t happy about it, I didn’t feel like what I did warranted an ejection.”

Boone said he thought the umpires were looking for Gardner to repeat his previous assaults on dugout roofs.

“I think in this case, in kind of talking with Gardy and watching it back, I think it’s clearly something they were probably looking for with us,” the manager said. “I haven’t received any memos or anything saying that’s illegal. Gardy was saying nothing again other than, ‘Hey, this is a spot in the game, we’re fired up, we’re playing for a lot,’ and we get a little passionate in that dugout in spots, and Gardy I don’t think was doing anything more than that.”

Boone added that on the topic of hitting the roof, the Yankees would “work closely with the commissioner’s office and find out what’s acceptable and not and try and certainly be respectful of that, and try and do a better job of staying in the game.”

Gardner said he believes any potential rule limiting players’ expression from the dugout would not be good for the sport.

“I guess if we’re trying to make the game fun again, like a lot of guys say the last few years — I don’t think you want all the guys sitting in the dugout not being able to say anything or make any noise or anything like that,” Gardner said. “That wouldn’t be too much fun. I’m not saying what I did was right…But I probably wouldn’t do it again tomorrow.”

It was Gardner’s sixth ejection of his career and second in little more than a week.

Last Friday, Gardner was tossed after an incident in Toronto in which plate umpire Chris Segal heard some words from the dugout and singled out the outfielder. Gardner had been silent at the time but earlier had been slamming his bat into the roof of the dugout.

On July 18, Boone screamed and hollered at another rookie umpire, Brennan Miller, leading to the expletive-filled rant that prompted the manager to call his hitters “savages” in the batter’s box. That netted him a one-game suspension.

These frustrations have come as the Yankees are running away with the American League East, with an 11-game lead over their nearest rival.

“I think it got taken too far with sending Gardy out of that game again, but look we’re playing for a lot right now,” Boone said. “You can feel that with all our guys right now, we’re in this thing — we’re playing for keeps.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Urias gets 20-game domestic violence suspension



Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias has been suspended 20 games under Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy, the league announced Saturday.

Urias has said he will not appeal. He has already served five games of the suspension while on administrative leave from May 14 to 21, leaving 15 games remaining to be served.

Urias, 23, was arrested May 13 after an altercation with a woman in a parking lot of a Los Angeles shopping mall. The Los Angeles city attorney’s office announced in June that it would not file charges against Urias as long as he participates in a 52-week domestic counseling program and commits no acts of violence for the next year.

The city attorney said it was deferring prosecution because Urias has no record of criminal behavior and the incident did not result in any physical injury, nor did the woman involved in the altercation indicate to police officers or witnesses that she believed she was a victim.

Urias, in a statement issued through the MLBPA on Saturday, said he’s been “fully cooperating” with law enforcement officials and the MLB since May and that he accepts “full responsibility for what I believe was my inappropriate conduct during the incident.”

“Even in this instance where there was no injury or history of violence, I understand and agree that Major League players should be held to a higher standard,” Urias continued in his statement. “I hold myself to a higher standard as well. I have taken proactive steps to help me grow as a person on and off the field, and in my relationships.”

Urias will be eligible for the postseason, which he said is a reason why he chose not to appeal.

“It is important to me not to create uncertainty for my teammates as we approach the playoffs,” Urias said in the statement. “Accepting the suspension is the best path to achieve that goal.”

The Dodgers issued their own statement, saying they are encouraged Urias will “learn” from this incident.

“While we are disappointed in what occurred and support the decision by the Commissioner’s Office, we are also encouraged that Julio has taken responsibility for his actions and believe he will take the necessary steps to learn from this incident,” the Dodgers’ statement said.

Urias, who has alternated between the rotation and the bullpen for the Dodgers, has a 4-3 record with four saves and a 2.53 ERA. The right-hander has 67 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings and a 1.09 WHIP.

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