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Robots calling balls and strikes? MLB has inked a deal with an independent league to be a testing ground for rule changes




A bucket of baseballs for batting practice is seen before the Texas Rangers play the Houston Astros on Opening Day at Minute Maid Park on March 31, 2013 in Houston, Texas.
A bucket of baseballs for batting practice is seen before the Texas Rangers play the Houston Astros on Opening Day at Minute Maid Park on March 31, 2013 in Houston, Texas.
Bob Levey/Getty Images

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Imagine going to a baseball game where balls and strikes are tracked completely by computer instead of an umpire behind the plate.

While baseball purists will likely shudder at the thought of anything but a human umpiring a game, the reality is that professional baseball might not be too far-removed from a world where robot umps exist. Late last month, Major League Baseball and the independent Atlantic League announced a three-year deal to allow the Atlantic League to serve as a testing ground for proposed rule changes to professional baseball. The idea is that it would be impossible to get buy-in from players and organizations to test out these rule changes in any MLB-affiliated minor or developmental league. However, many players in the Atlantic League are MLB veterans and will give league officials the opportunity to test these rules out on seasoned baseball players.

Last week, MLB detailed six specific rule changes would be implemented, including a computer-assisted strike zone, shorter times between innings, and curbing mound visits by players other than for pitching changes or injury replacement. Halfway through the season, at the all-star break, the Atlantic League will implement a seventh rule change that will move the pitcher’s mound back two feet to a 62-foot, 6-inch distance from home plate.

What do you think about the potential for some of these rule changes to be implemented in professional baseball? Do you like the idea of an independent baseball league serving as a training ground for proposed rule changes for the pros? What rule changes would you like to see tested out in the Atlantic League?

Guest:

Tim Kurkjian, baseball analyst for ESPN's Baseball Tonight, Monday Night Baseball and ESPN.com, and author of several books including "I'm Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies: Inside the Game We All Love" (St. Martin's Griffin, 2016); he tweets @Kurkjian_ESPN