Talking with author Don Van Natta, Jr., Manfred said that the automated strike zone system being tried out in some minor league levels this season is close to making its way to the majors.
Manfred says there are two primary options on the table for these “robot umpires.” Option No. 1 is for the system to notify the home plate umpire – via earpiece – whether each pitch was a strike or a ball. Option No. 2 is for the home plate umpire to call balls and strikes as normal, but then each manager would have multiple challenges for the game.
Not only are these systems being possibly implemented due to accuracy, but also to help the pace of play. In the minor league levels where there are “robot umpires,” game times are nine minutes shorter than the previous season.
Rob Manfred Adding Pitch Clock, Too?
Also, look for a pitch clock to be implemented in MLB games. A proposed idea would give the pitcher 14 seconds to make his pitch with the bases empty, and 18 or 19 seconds to act with a runner on base. Rob Manfred projects that a pitch clock could shave as much as a whopping 30 minutes off of each game.
At one minor league level last season, the pitch clock decreased average game time by 21 minutes. Another unintended consequence of that implementation was that the league had the second-highest scoring average in all of the minors. That may or may not be a correlation, but for MLB games to decrease in time while increasing in runs would be a dream scenario.
According to an internal survey conducted in 2021, Manfred says a pitch clock was the most favorable possible change. Former MLB general manager Theo Epstein weighed in positively on the pitch clock as well:
“Pitch-clock games are like games from the ’70s and ’80s … There’s a great natural rhythm, it’s the way the game is supposed to be,” he said. “A pitch is not supposed to be a 30-second spectacle.”