Triple-A baseball teams to adopt robot-umpire challenge system full-time

(NEXSTAR) – Triple-A ball clubs are making the switch to the automated ball-strike (ABS) challenge system for at least the rest of the 2024 season, MLB officials announced in a memo Tuesday.

MLB has been experimenting with the automated ball-strike system in the minor leagues since 2019. This year marks the second-straight season that Triple-A parks have tested the ABS system — sometimes known as a “robot umpire” — at home plate.

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Triple-A games have since tested both the full ABS system — meaning fully automated balls and strikes, with a human umpire merely relaying the automated calls — and the now-standard ABS challenge system, in which human umpires still call the balls and strikes. In the ABS challenge system, however, teams are given a limited number of times they can challenge the human umps’ calls, at which point the automated system gives the final word.

Only 47% of all challenges to this year’s calls have been successful thus far, the Associated Press reported, citing the MLB. That means the human umpires were found to be correct about half of the time after their calls were challenged. But, it also means they were incorrect on controversial calls about half of the time, depending on how you look at it.

Still, the latter method — with human umpires making the calls, and only using ABS for challenges — is also the preferred option among players and fans, officials indicated Tuesday’s memo, per writer Thomas Harrigan.

One of 30 cameras utilized by the ABS system at a Triple-A game between the Memphis Redbirds and Lehigh Valley IronPigs is photographed overlooking the field at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on May 9, 2023. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking last month at a news conference, also indicated that robot-assisted calls likely won’t be used in the Major League until at least 2026.

“We still have some technical issues,” Manfred said. “We haven’t made as much progress in the minor leagues this year as we sort of hoped at this point. I think it’s becoming more and more likely that this will not be a go for ’25.”

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Manfred added that when and if the Major League does incorporate ABS, it’ll come in the form of the ABS challenge system, rather than a fully automated system.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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