Major League Baseball will use an independent baseball league as a testing ground for experimental rule and operational changes — including the use of robotic umpires, according to multiple reports.
MLB announced a three-year agreement with the Atlantic League on Tuesday, explaining in a news release that the deal will allow MLB to “implement changes to Atlantic League playing rules in order to observe the effects of potential future rule changes and equipment.”
Though the two leagues did not specify which changes will be tested, they did note that pitch-tracking technology will be installed at Atlantic League ballparks, and multiple news outlets reported MLB plans to use the independent league to experiment with robotic umpires calling balls and strikes.
MLB also plans to move back the pitching mound and gauge how that affects the game, according to reports.
“We are excited to announce this new partnership with the Atlantic League,” MLB senior vice president Morgan Sword said in a statement. “We look forward to bringing some of the best ideas about the future of our game to life in a highly competitive environment.”
Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, MLB had generally used its minor-league system — including the Arizona Fall League — when trying to test potential rule changes, such as the implementation of a pitch clock.
The use of a computerized strike zone in baseball has been welcomed by some and loathed by others, but commissioner Rob Manfred told The Athletic last year that the technology will soon make it posisble. Manfred said robotic strike zones are becoming increasingly accurate. And MLB ballparks have long since been outfitted with the requisite Trackman systems, which use a series of cameras and radar technology to track the movement and speed of the ball.
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