Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

An electronic radar system called TrackMan will soon be calling balls and strikes in the Atlantic League, an independent East Coast league that has emerged as MLB's testing ground for new rules and equipment initiatives.

Driving the news: The first step in this adventure began last Thursday at parks in Bridgewater, N.J. (Somerset Patriots) and New Britain, Conn. (New Britain Bees).

  • In a simple test to make sure that TrackMan data could be successfully transmitted and understood, home plate umpires were fitted with earpieces that relayed calls to them one-tenth of a second after the ball crossed the plate.
  • The umpires were told to still call "their" strike zone, leading to some confusion when their call didn't match Trackman's. When this goes live next month, they'll be going with whatever TrackMan says.

The intrigue: Major League Baseball will be watching this experiment closely. A few things they'll be looking for:

  • How will hitters react when a pitch they think is a ball is called a strike by TrackMan? And how will pitchers react when the opposite is true?
  • How easily can the zone can be adjusted so that it's accurate from batter to batter, depending on their height and batting stance?
  • And most importantly, will umpires be invested enough in each pitch to fill the still-important role of calling things like checked swings and managing the flow of the game?

The big picture: In a world of instant replays and booth reviews, it's not hard to imagine MLB eventually going this route. Should that day come, consider its impact on umpires and catchers, in particular:

  • Umpires: On one hand, they might be paid less as a result of their jobs becoming easier. Then again, maybe they wouldn't be — all while never having to be yelled at again.
  • Catchers: "Framing" (getting borderline pitches called for strikes) has become one of baseball's most highly coveted skills. TrackMan would make it a complete non-factor overnight.

Go deeper: Umpires get worse with age

Go deeper

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. EST: 32,135,220 — Total deaths: 981,660 — Total recoveries: 22,149,441Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m EST: 6,975,980 — Total deaths: 202,738 — Total recoveries: 2,710,183 — Total tests: 98,481,026Map.
  3. Politics: House Democrats prepare new $2.4 trillion coronavirus relief package.
  4. Health: Cases are surging again in 22 states — New York will conduct its own review of coronavirus vaccine.
  5. Business: America is closing out its strongest quarter of economic growth.
  6. Technology: 2020 tech solutions may be sapping our resolve to beat the pandemic.
  7. Sports: Pac-12 will play this fall despite ongoing pandemic — Here's what college basketball will look like this season.
  8. Science: Global coronavirus vaccine initiative launches without U.S. or China — During COVID-19 shutdown, a common sparrow changed its song.
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The Pac-12, which includes universities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington state, will play football starting Nov. 6, reversing its earlier decision to postpone the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: The conference's about-face follows a similar move by the Big Ten last week and comes as President Trump has publicly pressured sports to resume despite the ongoing pandemic. The Pac-12 will play a seven-game conference football season, according to ESPN.

Dave Lawler, author of World
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Global coronavirus vaccine initiative launches without U.S. or China

Data: Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

A global initiative to ensure equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines now includes most of the world — but not the U.S., China or Russia.

Why it matters: Assuming one or more vaccines ultimately gain approval, there will be a period of months or even years in which supply lags far behind global demand. The COVAX initiative is an attempt to ensure doses go where they're most needed, rather than simply to countries that can produce or buy them at scale.

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