Report: MLB taking first steps to see whether robot umps are the future

Major League Baseball is going to test whether robot umps or moving back the pitching mound is worth a shot. The league agreed to a unique partnership with the Atlantic League that will allow MLB test experimental new rules, according to Baseball America.

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The league announced its new partnership with the Atlantic League — an independent league — on Tuesday. In its press release, MLB said the Atlantic League will “permit MLB to test experimental playing rules and equipment.” MLB did not go into specifics on what experimental rules and equipment will come to the Atlantic League.

However, reports have suggested they will include moving back the mound and installing robot umps, according to Baseball America.

And those rules changes will be significant. While no one with the Atlantic League would confirm the changes, it is expected that the rules tweaks will involve moving back the mound and using Trackman to call balls and strikes, both rules changes that have long been suggested, but are significant enough to require plenty of in-game testing.

The partnership provides plenty of advantages for both sides. For MLB, it gives the league an opportunity to test out drastic rule changes without drawing the ire of its own teams. Making those changes in the minors, for example, would be nearly impossible. As Baseball America explained, major-league teams would not be happy about their best prospects suddenly throwing on a mound that was not 60-feet, six inches away from the plate.

The Atlantic League receives state of the art equipment from MLB to gather data. Since that data is being given to MLB, teams will also be able to scout the Atlantic League much easier. That could present more opportunities for players in the Atlantic League to get noticed by MLB teams, which means the Atlantic League would become the preferred destination for independent-league players.

MLB has found a way to embrace technology. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
MLB has found a way to embrace technology. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

There are drawbacks, of course. If MLB is happy with some of those rule changes, it will likely try to implement them in both the majors and minors. Given how much pushback the league has received from the players regarding a pitch clock, this could lead to even bigger arguments between the players and the league, especially considering the rumored rule changes for the Atlantic League are far more extreme.

While players who sign in the Atlantic League should be scouted more often by MLB teams, they’ll be playing in a league that uses drastically different rules. The Atlantic League is full of former MLB veterans who are used to the traditional game. The rule changes could be a big departure for those players.

No matter where you stand on those rule changes, this is the best way for MLB to break them in. While that data might lead to some radical rule proposals later, it should rule out plenty of ideas that would actively damage the game too.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

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