Sport News How are robo-umps faring in the minor leagues?

The Daytona Tortugas are, in many ways, as average as a minor league team gets.

The Cincinnati Reds’ affiliate in what’s now known as Low-A Southeast feature three of the organization’s top 10 prospects, but Tyler Callihan, Austin Hendrick, and Rece Hinds aren’t ticketed as superstars, just guys with bright futures. The Tortugas rank sixth in their 10-team league in OPS and runs scored, as well as pitcher strikeouts and win-loss record (they’re second in the league’s West division behind the St. Lucie Mets).

What makes Daytona interesting this year is the Tortugas’ home-road splits. Going by their record, you’d never know anything was up. They’re 14-16 at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, and 11-13 everywhere else in Florida. It’s how those games are playing out that’s the eye-popping part.

At home, the Tortugas are averaging 4.52 runs per game and allowing 4.80. On the road, they’re averaging 5.46 runs per game and allowing 5.17. Daytona pitchers average 2.57 more strikeouts per game at home, while their batters whiff 0.65 more times per home game. As a result, the average game in Daytona has featured 9.32 runs scored, while the average Tortugas road game has seen 10.63 runs.

There’s nothing particularly notable about the Daytona ballpark’s dimensions. What stands out most about it is that it’s been there since 1914 and became the Dodgers’ spring training home after Jacksonville refused to allow Jackie Robinson to play games there in 1946. After one Grapefruit League go-around, the Dodgers opened up their historic facility in Vero Beach, but since Daytona was the first city in Florida to allow Robinson to play, they put his name on the park.

Daytona Beach was also a spring training site for the Orioles in 1955, and for the Expos from 1973-80. These days, though, it’s the only place in Low-A Southeast that isn’t a Grapefruit League facility. The Tortugas and the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels, the Twins’ affiliate that plays at Minnesota’s complex, are the only teams in the league that aren’t outright owned by their major league parents.

That’s why Daytona is the one ballpark in Low-A Southeast that is not equipped with an Automated Ball-Strike system, the most controversial of the minor leagues’ experimental rules this year.

Major League Baseball, officially, does not have a timeline for implementing “robot umpires” or any of the other rules being tried in the minors this season. But two management sources have told Deadspin to expect some of this year’s pilot programs, such as pitch clocks and larger bases, to show up in the majors as soon as next season, with automated pitch calls not far behind.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me, 2023, there were robo-umps,” one source said. “I could definitely see that.”

There still needs to be agreement from the players and umpires unions before MLB proceeds with computerized balls and strikes, but as far as the MLBPA goes, there are many bigger issues to negotiate ahead of the December 1 expiry of the current CBA. The umpires already agreed to the general concept, and to help (in rather vague terms) with its implementation, and it’s also generally thought that umpires are largely fed up with criticism over missing calls on 100-mph pitches by a fraction of an inch thanks to the fact that broadcasts now include superimposed strike zone boxes and StatCast-fed pitch tracking graphics that highlight arbiters’ errors.

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