AI Takeover II: Tarik Skubal and the pitchers who will be most affected when the robot referees arrive |  The analyst

AI Takeover II: Tarik Skubal and the pitchers who will be most affected when the robot referees arrive | The analyst

After going 9-14 with a 4.64 ERA in 36 starts in his first two seasons, Tarik Skubal has given the Detroit Tigers reason for optimism by showing signs of breakout this season. .

Behind two- and four-seam fastballs that max out at nearly 100 mph and a nasty slider that peaked at 94.7 mph, the 6-foot-3 southpaw had a career-best 3.52 ERA in 21 departures before the team announcement he is expected to undergo flexor tendon surgery.

Skubal, who was expected to be considered the team’s No.1 starter, is expected to miss at least the start of the 2023 season. However, he should probably have an eye on how his fortunes might change in 2024.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN in June that the league plans to introduce robot umpires this season. They’re not really robots of course, but an AI-powered system that will transmit balls and strikes to the referee.

MLB has experimented with an automated system in the minor leagues in recent years. And in ‘AI Takeover, Part I’, we looked at whether some of the top catchers who don’t produce at home plate could be kicked out of the game once this happens.

So who do the robot referees think they help the most? We can determine this using the ball called +, which measures how often pitchers have deals in the box called a ball relative to the league’s average pitcher (with the MLB average being 100).

And the answer brings us back to Skubal, who thinks he’ll be even tougher on the mound once he gets the calls he deserves with his mean stuff. According to the data, the 25-year-old Californian has, on average, nearly three times as many strike zone pitches called balls as the average pitcher over the past three seasons.

We’ll let that sink in for a moment.

(Ball%IZ=Percentage of throws inside the area called ball)

For frustrated pitchers who constantly receive ball calls on zone pitches, the consequences could be disastrous considering the impact the number change has on opposing batting averages.

We also noted this on the receiving end of this inevitable rule change: The league’s batting average on a 1-1 count over the past three seasons is .328. But if this number is rather from 0 to 2, this average drops to 0.149. MLB’s average since 2020 on a 2-1 count is .337, but that’s only .159 if the batter were to fall behind 1-2 instead.

Let’s revisit the 1990s Atlanta Braves rotation before diving into the pitchers who think they have the most to lose once robot umpires are in place.

No, not just because their pitching team is full of aces. Although it is, including three Hall of Famers. But for their collective Hall of Fame-level expertise in manipulating the strike zone.

Atlanta pitchers like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were masters at hitting the outside corner for a strike and then trying to get the call within an inch of black. And then another. And another.

More often than not, they seemed to understand. Why? The conventional thought has been that because they were always around home plate and had good command, umpires began to anticipate hand strikes.

The opposite was also believed to be true – a pitcher who has been wild throughout his outing might not receive the same call on the same limit offer as someone who has been around home plate.

There are a lot of pitchers in today’s game who are also trying to take a mile if the umpire gives them a thumbs up. This time, we’ll find them using the strike called +, which is how much above the league average these pitchers have received strike calls on out-of-the-zone offers over the past three seasons.

called-strike+
(Strike%OZ=Percentage of throws outside the zone called strike)

It is important to note that we are only looking at called strikes here. Of course, pitchers will always try to get batters to chase home plate. But what we can see here is that the data supports the idea that pitchers who can get the ball where they want more often benefit from extra strike calls.

Nine of the top 10 in the Called Strike+ have a command above 2022+, which measures a pitcher’s ability to hit their target. And three of them — Zach Davies, Martin Pérez and Kyle Hendricks — have Elite Command+ at 122, tied for second in the majors among those with at least 80 innings this season.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising to notice in the first table that eight of the top 10 in ball called + have league average order + or worse in 2022.

Davies, who is enjoying a rebounding season with a 4.03 ERA after posting a career-high 5.78 in 2021, is the one who thinks he has the most to lose. Of his shots that landed outside the strike zone, a league-high 9.93% have qualified as strikes since the start of the 2020 season.

Will switching to an automated hitting zone help left-handed pitchers more than right-handed ones? Interestingly, seven of the top 10 in call-strike+ are left-handed. Left-handed pitchers are always said to have an advantage, but AI bots could even the playing field when it comes to balls and hits.


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