Will Sports Betting Lead Baseball to an Automated Strike Zone?

Photo via USA Today


Every baseball fan in America likely saw Kyle Schwarber’s freakout on umpire, Angel Hernandez, on Sunday night baseball. Schwarber’s reaction is not justified by being punched-out on a 3-2 pitch in the bottom of the ninth, but was justified due to Hernandez’s performance throughout the night. According to Umpire Scorecards, Hernandez got 88% of calls correct in the Sunday night game, 6% less than the league average, and only 77% of strike calls correct, 11% less than the league average.[1] Also, reported by Umpire Auditor, he rang up six batters on pitches outside of the zone and called a strike on Jean Segura that was 6.47 inches outside of the zone, the largest margin on the season.[2] It’s clear Hernandez had a bad night behind the plate, but does baseball have room for these types of performances with the new sports betting landscape?

It is no secret that in-game betting has increased with the legalization of mobile sports betting, and given the time in between pitches in baseball, it makes for a great sport to bet on a variety of different outcomes. Commissioner Rob Manfred, was quoted, saying, “I do think in-game betting is going to be a significant component. I think if you talk to people who are experts in the field, they don’t see outcome betting as a major growth area, It is in fact in-game betting, so-called prop betting, that is going to be the growth area.”[3] If this is the case, the game will need to make adjustments in order to guarantee the outcomes people are betting on are correct. Given Major League Baseball’s ability to implement rule changes starting in 2023, will an automated strike zone be one of them? The answer to this question will depend on the amount of in-game sports betting on baseball throughout this season, and how many incorrect calls are made.

Umpire Consistency

An umpire is successful if he or she goes unnoticed. They should have virtually no impact on the game, and when they do, fans take notice and tend to shed light on their displeasure with umpiring in the game. Umpire Scorecards is an online database that details all home plate umpires’ performances for every game throughout the season. The data is centered around umpires’ accuracy on their balls and strikes calls. The league average is right around 93% accuracy.[4] Although 7% may not seem like much, if the average bettor begins to bet on individual pitches this will create a lot of blown calls leading to lost bets. Fans are constantly scrutinizing umpires, but the people that are making these calls are human, after all. We cannot expect perfection, and if that is what we want in order to optimize sports betting in baseball, then baseball will need to move toward robot umpires to ensure accuracy.


Human error has always been a part of the game, and a part that baseball traditionalists are typically fans of. The more fans scrutinize human umpires for missed calls, the more likely the league is to replace them altogether with robot umpires. Robot umpires are also conflicting with baseball’s biggest fans, traditionalist baseball fans’, mindset. Throughout the game’s history, human error has just been an obstacle that players were expected to overcome. With K-Zone (the box outlining the strike zone) being on almost every broadcast, umpires and the league are facing more criticism. Replacing umpires will likely come with just as much criticism as blown calls are currently getting, but the league will have to decide what its primary objectives are and which crowd it is trying to appease: traditionalist baseball fans or the growing number of sports bettors.

[1] https://twitter.com/UmpScorecards/status/1518600289401548801

[2] https://twitter.com/UmpireAuditor?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

[3] https://frontofficesports.com/could-baseballs-slow-pace-spark-increased-in-game-betting/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CI%20do%20think%20in%2Dgame,to%20be%20the%20growth%20area.

[4] https://deadspin.com/deadspin-s-deep-dive-into-umpire-stats-accuracy-and-co-1847466846

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