As we've seen time and again this year, umpires are increasingly under the microscope. With the variety of angles available to TV viewers, it's become more and more apparent when a call is wrong, and as Jerry Crasnick writes today, umpiring in baseball is a major issue right now.
While many of the most memorable umpire mistakes have come on force plays, tag plays and "boundary calls," the most common kind of blown call, by far, happens behind home plate several times a game. It's possible to watch a game and forget about the base umpires, as long as none of them makes a glaring error. But it's impossible to ignore the home plate umpire, who has to make a ruling on every pitch not fouled off or put in play.
That's why arguing balls and strikes leads to an automatic ejection -- there are simply too many of them to make arguing each one permissible. Moreover, the strike zone is such a core component of baseball that questioning its consistency calls into question the integrity of the game.
Grousing about umpires is as old as the game itself, but the advent of instant replay -- and more recently, ball-tracking technology -- has made those complaints more numerous and provided conclusive evidence of occasional umpire incompetence. That doesn't necessarily mean that we're ready to do away with umpires, even if Major League Baseball would allow it.
Even Mike Fast, a former Baseball Prospectus and current Houston Astros analyst who made his name by studying the data collected by Sportvision's PITCHf/x system, has acknowledged that some significant technical hurdles would have to be cleared before an automated system could make more accurate calls in real time than human umpires. However, that hasn't stopped, or even slowed, the steady stream of complaints about officiating coming from couches and clubhouses alike. The shots are fired at even some of the best umpires in the game.