MLB Takes Major Step Towards Electronic Strike Zone: Class AAA Parks to Implement ABS System in 2023

During the 2023 season, the Automatic Balls and Strikes (ABS) technology, popularly known as the electronic strike zone, will reportedly be utilized in all 30 Class AAA parks. This action is considered a big step toward the technology’s eventual big league application in the not-too-distant future. 

In two separate ways, the ABS system will be used. In half of the Class AAA games, all calls will be made using electronic strike zones. In the other half, all calls will be made using an ABS challenge system similar to what is used in professional tennis.

Each team will be allowed three challenges per game, with teams retaining challenges in cases when they are proved correct. MLB’s intention is to use the data and feedback from both systems, over the full slate of games, to inform future choices. As of now, MLB has no firm date to implement its Automatic Balls and Strikes system in the big leagues. But in recent seasons, the robotic umpire has been used increasingly in the minor leagues.

The first-year feedback on the challenge system was surprisingly positive, according to club staffers, with some in the industry beginning to believe that this might be a good first step in utilizing ball-strike technology. If MLB were to commit to electronic strike zone calls for all pitches, it would dramatically change the position of catcher, which for generations has been inhabited by players who have mastered defensive nuances — receiving the ball effectively, pitch presentation and conversational advocacy with the umpires — that would become all but obsolete under an ABS. With a full ABS, catchers would really be required only to block balls in the dirt and throw. Additionally, the umpires would have one of their primary responsibilities stripped away completely if MLB shifted to an electronic strike zone.

If the feedback on the challenge system continues to be positive, it could be that this gains favor as an initial intermediate step over an immediate ABS takeover of all ball-strike calls. The implementation of the ABS system comes amid a number of changes for the upcoming season, including the use of a pitch clock, new regulations limiting the use of defensive shifts, larger bases, and a restriction on the number of times a pitcher can attempt pickoff throws. These changes are intended to augment what MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has referred to as the “pace of action.”

In conclusion, the electronic strike zone, known as the Automatic Balls and Strikes (ABS) system, will be used in all 30 Class AAA parks during the 2023 season. This move is seen as a significant step towards the implementation of the technology at the big league level in the near future. MLB will use the data and feedback from both systems to inform future choices. The first-year feedback on the challenge system was positive, with some in the industry beginning to believe that this might be a good first step in utilizing ball-strike technology. If the feedback continues to be positive, it could be that this gains favor as an initial intermediate step over an immediate ABS takeover of all ball-strike calls.

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