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Bryce Harper’s hissy fit shows why MLB needs an automated strike zone

For The Win logo For The Win 4/23/2019 Ted Berg

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After being called out on strikes in the fourth inning of the Phillies' loss to the Mets on Monday, Bryce Harper barked at umpire Mark Carlson from the dugout, got ejected, and threw a whole fit. His hair looked fantastic, but the rest of him looked pretty childish.

And I get it. In quiet, rational times, I maintain respect for the work done by referees and umpires to enforce the rules of their sports, but during the heat of competition - any competition, really - I become convinced officials are either grossly incompetent or, for whatever reason, punishing me personally with their calls. I am not someone anyone would ever call "sportsmanlike."

Neither is Bryce Harper. Harper's confrontation with Carlson is only the latest salvo in his longstanding crusade against umpires for their strike zones, which has included F-bombs and helmet tosses and dirt-kicking tantrums. Here's the pitch plot from the at-bat that apparently offended him on Monday, via MLB.com:

a close up of a map: File Photo © File Photo File Photo

The box is the strike zone. Pitches 4 and 5 were both called strikes. Both appear, pretty clearly, to be touching the box. The strike-two call against Cesar Hernandez that ultimately led to Harper's ejection was a bit more suspect, but still not really egregious.

On Thursday, the independent Atlantic League will begin its 2019 season. That circuit will serve as a petri dish of sorts for Major League Baseball this year, experimenting with a series of fairly radical rule changes that include the incorporation of a TrackMan radar system to call balls and strikes. Some fans have been clamoring for an automated strike zone with a plea of "robot umps now" since before such a thing seemed at all feasible. But pitch-tracking technology - like many other technologies - has come a very long way in the last few years.

And it's time.

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The thing is, the same devices that make automated strike zones possible now contribute to the tension between teams and umps over strike calls. Not only do the umpires know they're going to be judged by their employer with unprecedented precision, but teams enter games armed with data mapping every home-plate umpire's particular tendencies. If you know a guy has a habit of calling high strikes, you're more likely to gripe over a pitch at the top of the zone. Worse yet, with more and more broadcasts now featuring annoying, intrusive strike-zone overlays, fans can get in on the discontent, too.

After getting tossed for arguing balls and strikes in a 2015 game, Harper said, "I don't think 40,000 people came to watch (Marvin Hudson) ump tonight." But presumably none of the 25,293 fans who bought tickets to Monday night's game at Citi Field paid to see baseball's most prominent superstar get tossed in the fourth inning over a borderline strike.

If MLB has the ability to swiftly and accurately determine whether or not a pitch hit the strike zone, there's really no reason whatsoever to force umpires to keep attempting it in an era when practically every bullpen has multiple guys throwing triple-digit heat with movement. There'll still need to be an ump stationed at home plate, so it wouldn't cost anyone a job, and it'd presumably preclude hysterics like Harper's outburst on Monday.

A robot ump probably makes the same strike calls Carlson did, but Harper would appear far less justified and far more ridiculous if he went out and kicked dirt at a pitch-tracking camera. If it goes off without a hitch in the Atlantic League in 2019, the automated zone should be implemented in MLB next year. Robot umps soon.

Monday's big winner: Donovan Mitchell

a man holding a basketball: File photo © Getty File photo

The Jazz guard missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds of his team's playoff loss to the Houston Rockets in Game 3, but bounced back with an electrifying performance on Monday to keep his season alive. Mitchell, who just generally seems like an awesome dude, scored 31 points - including 19 in the fourth quarter - to help Utah avoid a sweep and force a Game 5 in Houston on Wednesday.

Quick hits: Griffin, Trout, Moore

- During the Pistons' season-ending loss to the Bucks in Detroit on Monday, aggrieved fans serenaded officials with a chant of "ref, you suck!" Cameras caught Pistons big man Blake Griffin joining in. I'm gonna say it probably wasn't the refs' fault that the 8-seed Pistons could only finish within 20 points of the Bucks once in Milwaukee's four-game series sweep.

Stephen Moore holding a book: File photo © Associated Press File photo

- Stephen Moore, one of Trump's picks for the Federal Reserve Board, has some sort of axe to grind against women who are involved with basketball, including women who play basketball, women who ref basketball, and women who analyze basketball. Stephen Moore 100% got his ankles broken by Ayn Rand at Alan Greenspan's 2-on-2 tournament in 1985 and has dedicated the rest of his life to ridding basketball of the scourge of women. He claims his multiple columns on the topic were "a spoof," which the type of thing you say when you can come up with no better excuse for yourself. All my bad takes are performance art.

- It was Mike Trout Monday, and I learned something new and cool about Mike Trout.

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Related slideshow: 2019 MLB season (Provided by imagn) 

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