David Ortiz and the Quest for Robot Umpires

Yesterday, in the bottom of the ninth, the Boston Red Sox plated two runs in a furious rally to come within one run of the Toronto Blue Jays. Travis Shaw doubled in Dustin Pedroia to make the score 4-2. That was followed by Hanley Ramirez driving in Shaw and the score was 4-3.

With Chris Young on deck, John Farrell decided to have David Ortiz pinch hit. Without getting into a discussion of whether clutch hitting truly exists or not, Big Papi does have a history of getting some big hits at big moments for the Sox.

With a 2-2 count, Drew Storen pumped a 93 mph sinker in to Ortiz, who took it thinking it was ball three. You can watch it here. In the video feed, from the Blue Jays’ broadcast, the pitch is shown to have just tucked inside the top of the zone. Ortiz, everyone in the Sox’ dugout, and every member of Red Sox Nation disagreed, myself included.

I might be biased; I might want to see another walk-off hit from Ortiz. However, when you look at PITCHf/x information, we might have a valid argument.

This is not the most egregious or awful example of a bad call by an umpire, but it’s the one that got me to thinking of starting this series. Aside from a marginally bad call killing a rally, it also created a new ‘first’ for Ortiz; one he didn’t want to achieve. This was the first time in his career that Ortiz was called out looking in a potential walk-off situation. It’s pretty incredible that has never happened to him before, but it sucks that it happened on a call that should have gone the other way.

A so-called robot umpire, utilizing PITCHf/x technology would have gotten the call right. Maybe that wouldn’t change the outcome of the game, but that’s almost irrelevant. A hitter with Ortiz’s pitch recognition doesn’t let strike three sail by in that high import situation, but he’ll certainly let ball three go past.

Using technology in baseball is not just about amassing heaps of data for sabermetricians to use in analysis of the game. Available technologies should be implemented to aid in making strike zones consistent, fair, impartial and balanced.

So, if you see #RobotUmpsNow spray-painted on a wall somewhere, it wasn’t me, but I agree wholeheartedly.

2 Responses

  1. C_Town

    I find it interesting how the writer only brings up the Ortiz strikeout, when there are multiple examples in this series from the other side of the field. How about Bautista’s “strikeout” in game 2? Or Pillar’s in game 1? Both pitches were clearly outside (Pillar’s was low as well), and both killed the Blue Jays’ momentum.

    • Gabriel D. Bogart

      I hear your comment and agree that there were subjective and inconsistent calls on both sides. The real point was to examine one “bad” call at a time, regardless of the team or my fan affiliation. Yes, I root for the Red Sox, which certainly influenced my choice. In the end, the deciding factor had to do with that being the first time Ortiz was called out in a potential walk-off situation in his career. The hope is to have a series of these articles for as many teams and players as possible. Thanks for reading.


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