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Ducks have some questions about tracking system assisting umpires on balls and strikes this season

The Atlantic League's new TrackMan radar system will feed plate umpires ball and strike calls via an earpiece based on an electronic strike zone.

Ducks outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis bats in a game

Ducks outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis bats in a game against the Long Island Black Sox on Monday, April 22, 2019, at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip. Credit: George A. Faella

There’s one thing Ducks manager Wally Backman doesn’t like about the Atlantic League’s new TrackMan radar tracking system, which will help umpires call pitches this season.

“I can’t argue balls and strikes,” Backman said jokingly at the Ducks’ media day news conference Monday morning at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip. “I may have to take a baseball bat out to TrackMan and beat the hell out of it.”

The system, which exists within the agreement between MLB and the Atlantic League allowing MLB to test experimental playing rules, will feed plate umpires ball and strike calls via an earpiece based on an electronic strike zone. Ducks founder and CEO Frank Boulton said he expects the system to be ready within the first 30 to 45 days of the season, which begins for the Ducks on Friday night in York, Pennsylvania.

“Last year, I think umpires were correct 94 percent of the time,” Backman said. “If TrackMan can be right 99 percent of the time, it only helps the players.”

Ducks lefthander Jon Niese, a former Met, said he has mixed feelings about the situation.

“I do like the human element of the game,” he said. “You strategize how you go about hitters depending on what the umpire’s giving you or not giving you. I also think that each hitter has a different zone, so I don’t know how tough that’s going to be for the TrackMan to make those adjustments.”

At the end of the day, balls will be balls and strikes will be strikes regardless of who’s behind the plate.

“I like knowing that if I throw a strike, it’s going to be a strike,” Niese said. “I’ll take a strike when it’s a ball, but it kind of defeats the purpose of the game. I think, right now, it’s great for something like that to grade the umpires and make them accountable. I think if the umpires are held accountable, they’re going to be better . . . I like the human error of the game because it kind of makes it more unique, but I also like the umpires getting the calls right.”

The Ducks’ Kirk Nieuwenhuis, also a former Met, said he doesn’t like having to adjust to an umpire’s potentially unique interpretation of the strike zone when he steps into the batter’s box.

“I think any time you step up to the plate, you want consistency, for sure,” he said. “It’s super-frustrating when you have to adjust to the umpire at the plate and you already have to adjust to the pitcher. I think the idea of TrackMan and having a consistent zone is really good.”

Nevertheless, Nieuwenhuis has his questions.

“I think it’ll be a good step, but it’ll be interesting throughout the season to see what breaking balls look like at the top or bottom of the zone,” he said. “ . . . There’s a lot of unanswered questions and I think it will be interesting to see where this season takes us.”


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