High strike, ABS and zeitgeist

2020 Tokyo Olympics were taking place, the Korean national baseball team will face the U.S. in a loser’s semifinal match. Park Kun-woo (currently the NC Dinos) is at the plate with two outs in the top of the fourth inning, trailing 0-1. He is struck out with a ball count of 3-ball-2 strikes. Judging by the ball, moving toward first base, he leaps after the umpire’s call and shows embarrassment. The last ball was a high fastball.

Three years have passed. On Apr. 26, against the NC-Lotte Giants in Changwon, Park is struck out by an opponent pitcher, Charlie Barnes, on the ball in the first inning. In a course that is almost the same as that during the Olympics, the Automatic Ball Determination System (ABS) determined the strike this time. Park steps down with a hand gesture of high.

The reason why Park struck out two times is not to blame Park for his performance or attitude. Park is currently the first in batting average in the Korean pro baseball league with 0.327 as of Tuesday. A player at this level has certain strike zones of his own. How should he regard the two high zone strikes that he suffered from.

During the Olympics, the reason and interpretation of the strikeout could be attached to the characteristics of the referee (or misjudgment) and the characteristics of baseball (or level difference) by country.
In fact, baseball used to be a local sport. For example, when an expression such as “a new record for home runs in Asia” was made, many argued that the number and characteristics of each league were different, but could they be compared together.

However, as baseball has grown into the global market and has been compared to other sports such as soccer, whether the sport is internationally competitive has become a matter of survival. Business demand for international competitions such as the Olympics and World Baseball Classic will likely increase further. Would it be an exaggeration to say that Korean baseball has no choice but to follow international trends and standards, and high zone strikes and computer decisions are also in the globalization trend? It is reasonable to see that a zone that did not exist is not created by ABS but as a process to adapt to change.

What’s more, Korean baseball has repeatedly expressed self-reflection after international competitions, saying, “We need to meet international standards, including high strikes. The Korean zone is too small.” Subsequently, the league secretariat made an announcement to expand the zone, but repeatedly widened it at the beginning of the season and went back to the past when the competition for ranking became full-fledged. That also depended on the referee. The younger the experience, the more the comment came from the scene that a strike zone is a “needle hole.” Was it fair and consistent.

Technically high strikes have already attracted attention in the U.S. Major League Baseball for many years as a response to the foot-and-mouth revolution that has become popular in the U.S. Pitchers throw high fastballs with four-seamers, based on the analysis that two-seamers, once in the spotlight as groundball-inducing pitches, are vulnerable to home runs. The strategy is to avoid the trajectory of the batter’s bat’s upper swing. Therefore, throwing high strikes well and hitting well are part of the latest baseball.

Above all, the sincerity of customers who enjoy watching and paying for baseball, the spirit of the times, strongly demands “fairness.” This is why the era of computer referees who understand human differences (or mistakes) is over, and going to the era of computer referees who judge with precision cannot be dismissed as just “complex technology.”

When I was working as a front desk clerk, I tried to understand the referee, but I also doubted him. It was all the more so when a certain referee lost four consecutive games as a referee. It was dumbfounded when a referee said after the game, “I missed (some calls).” It was an apology or an excuse. Why did he make so many mistakes.

High-zone strikes and ABS are rules in and of themselves, but they are also a means to push people beyond their cognitive limits. It’s also an opportunity to gain misunderstanding and distrust of people. The majority of the judges say, “We’ve reduced our stress, too.” There are some issues about ABS, but I doubt it’s a real controversy, as some have argued. I believe that league members can judge sensibly on issues that can be corrected and improved. Someone will need more time to adapt. I understand, but ambiguity has been replaced by clarity, and that time will be reduced.

Kim Jong-moon, a coach certified by the Korea Coach Association, coachjmoon Gmail

Kim Jong-moon was a former reporter of JoongAng Ilbo and served as the front desk of the NC Dinos baseball team from 2011 to 2021. He became the general manager of the “last place” team in late 2018 and became the first team to win the title two years later. He is currently the Korea Coach Association’s certified coach. 스포츠토토

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