Major League Baseball is testing out several rules changes throughout minor league baseball in the 2021 season. Different levels, and even in some cases, different leagues will be playing under different rules. In Low-A, the Southeast League will be playing with the automated strikezone this year. Sort of. The entire league is played in spring training facilities with the lone exception of one team. That means that all of the stadiums, except one, has the Hawk-Eye ball and player tracking system installed. Major League Baseball switched from Trackman to Hawk-Eye for tracking purposes two years ago. The only team in the league that hasn’t upgraded to Hawk-Eye is the Daytona Tortugas.

JJ Cooper of Baseball America reported this morning that because Daytona doesn’t use the Hawk-Eye system that games played in their ballpark will still use a strikezone called by the umpires. Jackie Robinson Ballpark, home of the Tortugas, does have Trackman installed – but the decision was made that while that system was good enough to test the entire idea out in the Atlantic League, it won’t be used in this league for official purposes.

The strikezone that will be in place in other ballparks is determined by the height of a player, not the exact traditional strikezone that’s from the knees to roughly under the letters of the jersey. A players height will be checked and verified – it’s not just going to be pulled from the media guide, where information may not be reflected accurately. Of course, this may not lead to an accurate strikezone for all players. Imagine a hitter who has a crouch in their stance. Imagine that same player then has a more upright stance. The strikezone will be the exact same for both of those players even though, by definition, it shouldn’t be.

With players coming through Daytona in the 2021 season this could lead to some interesting things. The strikezone for home and road games are going to be different. For hitters, it’s possible that it could be significantly different. For pitchers it’s going to vary no matter what because the zone changes with each hitter in home and road games. But pitchers may be able to exploit the automated strikezone and get calls that would simply never be called in a traditional strikezone. In what feels like decades ago, but was only two years ago, I recall a conversation with a current big league pitcher who knew exactly how he could exploit Trackman’s “zone” with breaking balls to get such calls if they ever made a switch.

Things may not be immediately apparent when the season begins in May for Daytona. But it’s probably worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses as to how the splits are for players that are putting on those Tortuga jerseys each day. They’re going to be playing two different kinds of games during the season.

9 Responses

  1. James K

    The umpires, who will get practice at calling balls and strikes only occasionally, may be erratic.

    • MK

      Have to wonder how this will hurt the umpires professional development. They want to get better to move up as well.

      • Doug Gray

        We all understand this is being tested out because it’s coming to the big leagues right? Soon the umpires aren’t going to be calling balls and strikes.

  2. Billy

    How did the players in the Atlantic League like having an automated strike zone? Did they report any biases?

    • Doug Gray

      JJ Cooper of Baseball America noted that from those he talked to control pitchers hated it, while the hard throwers loved it.

      It is worth noting, though, that the systems are different, so things could work out differently here than they did in the Atlantic League.

    • MK

      Talked to Alejandro Chacin who played for Lancaster Barnstormers in 2019 who said there wasn’t much difference, and he wasn’t a power pitcher.

    • Gaffer

      Agree, I’m all for completely automated strike zone for all levels, all teams, including the majors. Tired of having a few umpires in control of billions of dollars of sports industry. Especially when they can’t be fired when they clearly are awful. How can you have the entire game be micromanaged based on statistics and then the strike zone is random.