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Wednesday, April 1, 2009
New way to judge umps on the way

Wave goodbye to QuesTec. As Alan Schwarz reports, there's a new tool in town.

Anyone care to argue with that?

Someone, maybe. The umpires, maybe …

The umpires -- as a group, i.e., their union -- will never be pleased with anything resembling an objective evaluation, because it's difficult to game a system based on objective evaluation. Port is right: Umpires don't want to miss pitches. It's not the way it used to be, when a great many umpires would boast about having "my" strike zone. As Joe Morgan loves to say, it's not their strike zone; it's baseball's strike zone. During the past decade or so, that message has gotten through, finally.

What umpires do want is the freedom to miss pitches occasionally without having to worry about anyone's noticing or -- more to the point -- being able to back up the noticing with actual proof. But those days are gone, and they're not coming back. It's simply not realistic to think that everything on the field would be tracked, the information dispersed to every franchise and around the globe … and yet somehow the umpires could continue to be evaluated as if digital video and computers had never been invented.

One of baseball's dirty little secrets is that umpiring is not that hard. Oh, it would be exceptionally difficult for you or me or your mailman. But thousands of men and women do good work in high school, college and minor league games, and I suspect that hundreds of them -- with a bit of training and experience -- could step right into the majors and perform as well, or nearly as well, as most of the current major league arbiters.

I might be wrong. Maybe it's actually dozens rather than hundreds. But don't think MLB doesn't know that umpires are relatively fungible and shouldn't be pampered any more than absolutely necessary. Thanks to the union, it's still exceptionally difficult to fire an underperforming umpire. But if one of them is consistently missing those pitches down and in, then by God he's going to hear about it.