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MLB Catchers Remain Skeptical of Robo Umps, Believe It Could Make Pitch Framing Obsolete


Andrew Cohen

Mets catching prospect Hayden Senger is among a growing list of catchers concerned with how the automated ball-strike (ABS) system would negate the need for pitch framing, arguably the position’s most valuable defensive skill.

“We grow up trying to perfect that move and trying to fool umpires. It kind of takes the most important part away from our game,” said the 24-year-old Senger who reached Double-A last season and is currently in big-league spring training with the Mets. “Framing the ball is the most important part of being a catcher.”

Senger previously experienced catching with ABS when it was trialed in the Arizona Fall League. This season will see MLB test Hawk-Eye’s automated ball-strike (ABS) system in Triple-A games and use it to challenge ball and strike calls made by human umpires in Single-A. 

MLB attempted to accelerate deployment of ABS in the majors during this off-season’s collective bargaining negations, but the union reportedly fought to keep ABS out of the big leagues through at least the 2023 season.

“I don’t think [automated strike zones are] going to be as efficient, and I think the pitcher still needs somebody back there that makes them feel good and who they trust,” Mets catcher Tomas Nido told the New York Post. “On the surface, you think it’s going to completely change the dynamic of the catching position,” added Mets manager Buck Showalter.

Former MLB catcher Tyler Flowers and current Blue Jays catcher Reese McGuire have also voiced concerns over ABS making pitch framing obsolete. Even if robot umpires do compute their way to the majors, Senger is committed to keeping the skill alive to build maximum rapport with the pitchers he works with.

“Even if [ABS] does come into play, I’ll probably still frame balls,” Senger said. “It’s good to give the pitcher where they’re missing, if you just catch [the ball] and throw it back, the pitcher might not be as comfortable with you back there. It’s always good to make the pitcher feel good about the pitches he’s throwing.”

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