AFL Successfully Tests Ball-Strike Challenges in Solar Sox Game

You cannot be serious. Instant reviews of close calls have been part of professional tennis for a while now, but not even John McEnroe was ready for similar technology to be used in baseball. Though McEnroe wasn’t at Talking Stick Thursday afternoon to see the Mesa Solar Sox take on the Salt River Rafters, our Jon Ferlise was in attendance and he excitedly messaged me when he saw the challenge taking place.

There were actually multiple challenges in the game, two of which came in the bottom of the 6th inning. Tigers prospect Parker Meadows drew a walk by getting a strike call overturned, and the video above is from a borderline pitch to the Blue Jays’ Tanner Morris that was initially called a ball before being overturned. As you can see from the video, a pitch doesn’t need to catch all of the zone in order to be called a strike.

Morris eventually walked as part of a seven-run frame that put the Rafters ahead and led to their victory. No Cubs pitching prospects were involved in that debacle, so you don’t need to be concerned about that aspect of the game. Jorge Mercedes, a righty in the Marlins organization, walked three batters in the frame after issuing two free passes in the 5th and was tagged with five earned runs.

The young Cubs did see some action, however, as Owen Caissie was 1-for-4 with two RBI as the leadoff batter and right fielder while Matt Mervis was 2-for-4 with an RBI as the first baseman and cleanup hitter. Caissie is now batting .207 as he continues to adjust and Mervis is up to .290 with a 1.103 OPS. Brennen Davis hasn’t played in over a week as he rests due to what the Cubs are calling “general soreness.”

As for the main point of this piece, don’t expect the automated ball-strike (ABS) technology to be implemented in the big leagues anytime soon. I do believe, however, that the system could be put in place more seamlessly by finding a way to integrate it into a heads-up display in eyewear for umpires. They wouldn’t even need to be embarrassed by having their bad calls adjudicated for all the world to see because they could make the right calls in the first place.

I think we will actually see a fully automated zone in MLB within the next five years, at which point hitters will regain a little of the ground they’ve lost to pitchers over time. The art of catching will continue to evolve away from framing and toward game managers who best understand the tendencies of both their own pitchers and the opposing lineup. It’ll be weird at first, but I think people will get used to it quickly.

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