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Interesting comment on working the count


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Truthfully, I don't care a bit about some fix using "state of the art knowledge to fix it via appropriate feedback and supervision". I'm convinced that that's a halfway solution that'll always have a large human error component. The technology is better far than that now...

You don't know what you're talking about. When it comes to baseball history you do. When it comes to what is achievable here, you don't.

When you say that improving human performance constitutes "halfway solutions" that will "always have large error component", you are speaking from personal bias, not knowledge.

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I (and I believe MR) think it's a matter of the umps not having the physical tools necessary to make these judgments consistently and accurately. Our theory is the Occam's Razor approach - they don't go it because they can't.


Why would anyone choose the long, hard, arduous process with the uncertain outcome over the relatively simple application of existing technology?

Approximately a dozen years ago, I proposed to my management to develop such a system. My proposal was rejected by my boss because

(1) Our mission was defense applied research and development and he didn't believe a baseball umpire assistance technology was something we ought to be working on.

(2) He felt like my return on investment analysis wasn't adequate.

(3) He thought that major league baseball was too resistant to change to be receptive to such a system.

Before I got squelched, I did get the results of a patent search. There have been many rather complex systems submitted to the patent office over the years, some involving radar and others using as many as a dozen video cameras. None of them looked to be very practical to me.

My proposal was based upon the reuse of software from defense technology that we were already working on. The military system was designed to use object recognition software to pick out military targets against a cluttered background on a video image. Problems included high speeds of the targets, target profiles which changed depending upon the aspect of the target with respect to the video camera, and the afore-mentioned background clutter. My premise was that the detection and identification of a baseball would be relatively trivial. The baseball is always a white sphere. It's speed range is between 50 and 100 mph as it crosses the plate. And the background is always predictable -- either a white home plate surrounded by red dirt with an overhead camera or a player's uniform in the view from a side camera.

At the time, I discussed my proposal with one of the programmers working on the defense software. He agreed with me that it was feasible and expressed interest in getting involved, but we didn't get approval to proceed.

The system would require 3 cameras, one mounted on a boom directly over home plate, one to the first base side of home plate, at a 90 degree angle to the line between the pitching mound and home plate, and a third camera to the 3rd base side of home plate. Only 2 cameras would be in use for any particular batter -- the 1st base camera for right handed hitters and the 3rd base camera for left handed batters.

The sideline cameras would need to be mounted on the railing separating the stands from the field, to keep it from interfering with infielders pursuing foul balls, and it would be necessary to insure that the on deck batter would never obscure the camera view.

The overhead camera view would be used by the software to identify the baseball as it passed the front and back edge of the plate and determine if the ball was over the plate, inside, or outside. The sideline camera would determine the vertical position of the ball as it passed over the plate. The software would compare the vertical position of the ball with the strike zone for that individual batter, which would have been stored in the system data base during spring training. Whenever minor league players are brought up, the system operator could select from a set of standardized batter profiles, based upon the batter's height. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would be a lot better than the current system.

For amateur players, I would provide umpires with a calibrated staff (walking stick) which they could use to profile each batter during their first at bat.

I would give the home plate umpire a "tell tale" indicator with red and green LEDs which could be mounted on the bill of his cap. The system processor would determine in real time (microseconds) whether the ball passed within the strike zone and flash an indication to the umpire -- red for a ball and green for a strike. It would still be the responsibility of the umpire to ascertain whether or not the batter swung at the pitch and if the ball was tipped by the bat, but those decisions would be much easier for the umpire because he wouldn't have to focus so much on the path of the ball. The red/green indicator would only be an aid to the umpire; he would still be responsible for calling the pitch a ball or a strike.

Because the system would be so unobtrusive, most fans wouldn't even be aware that it was being used. Because managers and players would know the umpire had trustworthy information on the path of the ball, arguments over balls and strikes would be virtually eliminated, except for check swings and foul tips. Because the calling of balls and strikes would be absolutely consistent, hitters with good strike zone recognition would have the confidence to take close pitches, without worrying about getting called out by an umpire who misjudged the path of the ball.

There might need to be some adjustments to the strike zone because pitchers would no longer be able to take advantage of the umpire's tendencies to call balls off the plate to entice hitters into swinging at pitches which weren't really strikes. However, MLB could make those adjustments to the strike zone -- if necessary -- with confidence that every major league umpire would still be calling the same, identical strike zone.

I would envision even greater benefits from the system in the amateur ranks.

(1) Leagues could eliminate the home plate umpire if they needed to reduce umpire labor costs, letting one of the umpires in the field call balls and strikes with the aid of my system. That would have the additional advantage of removing umpires from a position where they are more likely to be injured by an errant pitch or foul tip.

(2) The greatest benefit to the amateur ranks is that young pitchers and hitters could learn the real strike zone, without being confused or frustrated by inconsistent umpires. Most hitters would reach the majors with a better batting eye than is now the case, because they would be able to calibrate their batting eyes against a "perfect" umpire. Pitchers would benefit as well, but to a lesser degree.

After my project was thwarted, I thought that I might get an inexpensive video camera and record some pitches, then see if I could write some software to recognize the baseball, but my programming talent is fairly primitive and I've not really had the time. Any programmers willing to take a hack at it?

I'm not a lawyer and it's been 12 years or so since I got a patent search, so I have no idea what the patent implications would be with PitchFx, Questec, and other patent applications. I'm more interested in seeing the system developed and implemented than I am in making any profit.

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With each passing year, everything in baseball becomes more specialized, and more high tech.......except the umpires. Unless you want to include the switch from outside to inside chest protectors, the umpires still stand blindly behind home plate trying to determine if a 95mph fastball was too high or too low, or if that really nasty curveball crossed the plate or went around it. And in case anyone missed it, the key word in that rather lengthy sentence was "blindly."

With the introduction of the PitchFx and Questec pitch detection systems (PDS), the solution to whether or not a pitch is a strike or a ball is easily solved. However, umpire recognition would remain a problem unless a quick,and efficient method of pitch determination is devised. My suggestion is "shock therapy."

The computerized PDS would instantly determine whether or not a pitch crossed the plate within the MLB-determined strike zone. A wireless transmitter would immediately send a signal if the pitch is a strike. The home plate umpire would be equipped with a a small receiver wired to a jock strap containing a device that would emit a small shock. The shock delivered by a strike would cause the umpires hands to fly upward signaling to the fans and the broadcasters that the pitch was a strike.

This simple solution would also serve as payback for all the years that fans have suffered through endless bad calls by umpires.

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