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Questec, and tweaking the rules in baseball

I have a long-running interest in the use of technology to assist umpires and referees in calling the game. Umps and refs are fallible in ways that new technology is not. Hence I'm in favor of judiciously employing advances like QuesTec, which monitors calls of balls and strikes in Major League Baseball. Better measurement and adjustment using technology and umpire training can help restore the essential notion that the rules of the game are the same for all, i.e. that there aren't special rules for special players.

A relevant example is the case of NY Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, who was forced to switch from an in and out scheme (making use of erroneous strike calls off the outside corner), to an up and down strategy. Glavine deserves credit for adapting to how the game was being called in both the pre and post-QuesTec eras. In the pre-QuesTec era, and even today, high and low strikes are not called as the rules state. Glavine cant be faulted for pitching as dictated by umpires calls, rather than the rules per se. It is MLB's obligation to make the rules meaningful.

On this theme, there may be changes in store for the upcoming season, based in part on QuesTec. SI writer Tom Verducci spent a few days suited up as a Toronto Blue Jay during spring training. His account of the Blue Jays' team meeting with the supervisor of umpires foretells the changes:

At 8 a.m. we are back in the classroom -- Wells, with a fresh apple, in the same seat -- this time for the annual umpires' presentation, delivered by umpire supervisor Rich Garcia. Garcia notes that the average time of game increased by one minute last year, to 2:51, and players need to be aware of pace-of-game guidelines. He also says more strikes on the upper and lower edges of the strike zone will be called this year -- too many were called balls last year, according to the laser-guided QuesTec umpire information system.

Johnson asks Garcia if it is true that QuesTec allows a two-inch buffer zone on each side of the plate when grading umpires. Garcia acknowledges that it's true, and adds that if you include the three-inch width of the baseball, the 17-inch plate actually becomes a 27-inch plate to QuesTec.

There are grumbles in the back of the room.

"Schilling gets more."

"Pedro gets more."

Garcia moves on to beanballs. The quick warnings issued by umpires are designed to cut down on brawls. "And they have," he says. "We had only three last year. Myth: Once a warning is issued, my guy can't pitch inside. Fact: 75 percent of hit batters following a warning did not result in an ejection. So it's working."

"I thoroughly disagree!"

It is Batista, raising a loud objection.

"Last year I was given a warning for throwing a changeup in the dirt," he says angrily. "A changeup!"

Garcia admits umpires can make mistakes but reiterates that brawls are terrible for the game's image and the umpires will act aggressively to prevent them.