Cubs manager Joe Maddon

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Maddon's Robo-Ump Thoughts Not Inconsistent

Joe Maddon's view has changed a bit, but it's reflective of the complications.

Dan Bernstein
August 07, 2018 - 2:32 pm

(670 The Score) There was a time when Cubs manager Joe Maddon believed that an automated and objective strike zone was the future of Major League Baseball, taking out any romanticized notion of the human element to actually get the calls correct as often as possible.

Maddon called it "the next logical step" and argued that "it would be a more homogenized step on a daily basis" in a New York Post article last summer.

But his thoughts have evolved since then, as he explained on the Bernstein and McKnight Show on Tuesday. 

"I was talking to a vet umpire last year, and he pointed some things out to me that I felt was actually really pertinent," Maddon said. "When you watch from the side and you watch the game whether in the dugout or on the field, there’s certain pitches that actually look like a ball that are going to be called strikes. That’s probably the best way I can describe it based on this new zone. I think the pitches that are primarily balls will continue to be called (balls). There might be some changes, but I think the visual aesthetics are going to look different."

Maddon used the high curveball grabbing the very top of a proposed three-dimensional zone as one specific example, then mentioned that the same could happen with low pitches as well in a way that challenges long-conditioned perceptions. 

"The edges would benefit (from automation) — east and west might benefit from that," Maddon said. "Up and down, I’m not 100 percent sure. I think the aesthetic component of the game will change, the visual will change if we get the electronic strike zone."

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But of course the visual would change, and I was already under the impression that such a reality was baked in to the concept and that there would be an adaptation period in which we all adjust to the new normal.

So I believe both Maddons can be correct here. Standardizing the way pitches are called would undoubtedly lead to relearning what some strikes look like, with the understanding that it only means that human beings weren't as good at determining how a ball crosses through a zone in which it can be reasonably expected to be hit. As this is happening, it would be done so identically in every ballpark, every game, every day.

And that's the trade-off that I still think makes perfect sense, sacrificing what we used to think our eyes were telling us for the pure value of consistency. It just seems that for Maddon, he's decided he's now not quite ready to give that up.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​