Athletes fighting against ‘robot referees’? Is the ‘world’s first introduction’ ABS zone perfect?

In the ‘2024 Shinhan Bank SOL Bank KBO League’ game between Hanwha Eagles and KT Wiz held at Suwon KT Wiz Park, Jangan-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do on the afternoon of the 24th, Hanwha Ryu Hyun-jin, who is trying to achieve 100 wins in total, took the mound in the bottom of the first inning and was ruled a ball while pitching against KT Cheon Seong-ho. When this comes out, he smiles regretfully.

The ‘Automatic Ball Decision System’ (ABS) introduced this season was focused on minimizing decision-making controversies. It was hoped that by compensating for the limitations of the human eye, emotional fights between referees and players would be reduced.

However, there are still quite a few complaints about the strike zone. This raises a problem with the decision of the ‘robot referee.’

At the beginning of the season, Lotte Giants coach Kim Tae-hyung raised the issue, saying, “It should not interfere with performance,” and last week, veterans Ryu Hyun-jin (37, Hanwha Eagles) and Hwang Jae-gyun (37, KT Wiz) raised their voices.

Ryu Hyun-jin, who started against KT on the 24th, expressed doubts about the ball decision during Cho Yong-ho’s at-bat in the bottom of the third inning. He complained, “It was almost the same height, but some balls were called balls and some were called strikes.”

Jae-gyun Hwang was sent off for throwing his helmet after being ruled a strikeout in the SSG Landers game on the 26th. It was the first time he was ejected for complaining in the ABS zone. The ball was thrown low, but SSG catcher Lee Ji-young was unable to catch it.

Complaints from the field have been coming out steadily since the opening. There are suspicions that zones are applied differently depending on the stadium, and there are even opinions that the zones seem to be different even in the same stadium.

However, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) responded to these suspicions by saying, “There is no problem.” The KBO unusually shared ABS data on the 26th, the day after Ryu Hyun-jin publicly complained. In the case of the ball that Ryu Hyun-jin expressed doubt about, he explained that it passed 0.15cm above the bottom of the middle zone of the ABS, but failed to pass the bottom of the end zone by 0.78cm, so it was judged a ball. In order to accurately reflect the trajectory of the pitcher’s breaking ball, ABS is considered a strike only if it passes through both the strike zone on the middle and end surfaces of the home plate. If you fail to pass either zone once, it is a ball. In response to the point that ‘the zones are different for each stadium,’ the KBO said, “We are currently conducting tests for each stadium.” A KBO official said, “We will be able to test how much difference there is between stadiums when throwing a ball to the coordinates of the same course and release the data soon.” Basically, it seems impossible for an error to appear in the ABS zone. This is because a person’s ‘feel’ cannot be more accurate than a machine’s. If Ryu Hyun-jin’s ball also failed to pass the zone by less than 1cm, it would be virtually difficult to determine with the naked eye whether it was a strike or a ball.

However, this does not mean that the voices on the ground cannot be understood at all. This is because you can feel the gap between the ‘zone’ that has been in use for many years and the new zone.

MBC commentator Jeong Min-cheol said, “Such stories can easily come out on the field. “It may feel different visually or emotionally,” he said. “However, I think they are not opposed to the system itself, and I think they spoke plainly about what they felt.”

Commissioner Jeong said, “There may be differences of opinion on the initial zone setting itself, but once a zone has been set, it is bound to be more accurate than people,” and added, “I think it can be gradually resolved after the adaptation period and transition period.”

There are also criticisms that there was a lack of sufficient communication with the field. Although this was decided upon at a meeting of the general managers of 10 clubs, it is disappointing to see how much the opinions of the players actually playing the game were accepted.

Those who complain about the ABS zone also express their disappointment in this area. The players’ voices were not sufficiently heard, and there was not much time to adapt.

The KBO also left room for this. A KBO official said, “It is difficult during the season, but it is fully possible to discuss the strike zone again after the season ends.”

Commissioner Jeong Min-cheol also said, “If improvements are needed, there should be a process of careful discussion and consultation after the season.” 스포츠토토

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