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Ducks game is rollout of Automated Ball-Strike System

Home plate umpire Fred DeJesus wears an earpiece,

Home plate umpire Fred DeJesus wears an earpiece, which is part of the Automated Ball-Strike System powered by the TrackMan Advanced Analytics Program, during a baseball game between the Long Island Ducks and the New Britain Bees at Bethpage Ballpark on Thursday, July 25, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Some baseball traditionalists see it as “Man vs. Machine,” but many in the Atlantic League see it as more a mutually beneficial relationship.

Thursday night marked the league-wide rollout of the Automated Ball-Strike System (ABS) powered by the Trackman advanced analytics program, and prior to the Ducks’ 9-1 win over the New Britain Bees at Bethpage Ballpark, Ducks manager Wally Backman spoke about the viability of the new technology.

“My whole thing is, let’s say just to throw numbers out there, if TrackMan is 98 percent right and the human is 92 percent right, then you have to use TrackMan because it makes the game better,” Backman said.

Home plate umpire Fred DeJesus was “plugged in” with an earpiece that received information from someone operating a computer program that called balls and strikes by utilizing radar. The league announced that the earpiece will be donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The league first used the program during its All-Star Game on July 10 and has slowly introduced it during the beginning of the second half in different ballparks. It will now be used in all eight ballparks the rest of the season.

Backman said players watched and learned about TrackMan before it was implemented, but have had “lots of questions.”

“You see the ‘K zone’ on TV in big league games, and that’s how you picture it when you’re playing, but sometimes it just looks a little different,” said second baseman L.J. Mazzilli, who went 1-for-2 with two walks and a run scored. “There are maybe strikes that you didn’t think really were strikes, like the curveballs up.”

Mazzilli wasn’t sure what to think of it.

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “If it’s perfected, then it’s no argument. Strike’s a strike, ball’s a ball. But there are different algorithms, depending on your height, where the box might be, and I think we have to see where it goes the rest of the year.”

Pitcher Rob Rogers agreed that ABS needs to be mistake-free. Currently, umpires can overrule the machine if a ball bounces and crosses through the zone, which ABS recognizes as a strike. It also doesn’t evaluate check swings.

“I think if they want to keep moving forward, they’ve got to really perfect it to make sure it misses no pitches,” Rogers said. “You can’t have that.”

If nothing else, ABS should virtually eliminate arguments over balls and strikes. Bees rightfielder Jared James struck out looking to end the top of the sixth inning and appeared displeased, but didn’t fight it. In the bottom half of the inning, ex-Met T.J. Rivera hit a three-run homer that made the score 9-1.

“If it makes the game better and gets the game right, I think the players want the game right,” Backman said. “I know the fans like to complain about calls just as much as I do, but if it makes it right, then it’s right.

“You can’t argue with a robot, right?”

New York Sports