We've lived about two weeks now with TBS's PitchTrax (above, with Craig Sager and George Lopez added for my amusement) sitting on the screen during every pitch. I have to admit, I was kind of repulsed by it at first; it seemed distracting. But after an inning or two I grew to like it. It doesn't get in the way on my HDTV -- indeed, it's only on the HD broadcast -- and it allows me to bash the umpires, one of my favorite pastimes during a baseball game. Just like the score box in the corner in any sport or the first down line in football, I got used to it. And once I got used to it, I decided it added to my enjoyment of the game.
There's little-to-no information about TBS' PitchTrax on the Internet1. My guess, though, is it's not the great PITCHf/x and is instead the same PitchTrax as the QuesTec product detailed on the company's website. I mean, it has an 'x' at the end! That has to be a copyrighted name.
There have been plenty of complaints on the Internet that it's inaccurate; since we're not getting the right camera angle, I don't think we can tell from television. It is definitely inaccurate on pitches that are too high out of the zone: the PitchTrax box doesn't go high enough and so pitches that are higher than a certain point all get shown as if they were in the same spot. Obviously, pitches on the bottom don't have this problem (as there's a limit to how far down a pitch can be), and pitches way to the left and right are far less common than ones that are way too high, so it's not as much of a problem there.3
Questions of accuracy aside, here's my problem with TBS' use of PitchTrax this postseason.4 As far as I know, none of the announcers have ever mentioned this groovy little feature on any of the network's broadcasts so far. I haven't watched every moment of every game this postseason, but from what I can remember -- and from what I skimmed by on a quick re-viewing of last night's game this morning -- this is true. This leads to situations where an announcer will say a ball was over the plate while -- at the same time -- PitchTrax says it's a ball. Of course, in a way, that's good, because it gives us more ammunition to complain about the announcers (another fine baseball pastime).
So what gives? The way I can see it, there are a couple of options. Let's go over them, charticle-style:
• As I tweeted last night, MLB probably doesn't want the announcers to mention it, because it makes the umpires (and therefore MLB, or maybe even the game of baseball) look bad. In my mind, MLB must nudge producers and announcers to mention or not mention certain things; we've all see how homer-ish our local favorite teams' broadcasts can be, even when on TV stations not owned by the teams. (Have announcers ever criticized the job of their home team's grounds crew, ever?) But... I dunno; the more I think about this, the more I think it's just the stupidest conspiracy theory ever, because they could just not have PitchTrax if they didn't want the umps to look bad.
• Rob thinks the whole set-up is a way for Bud Selig to discredit the umps and lower their salaries or fire them all or replace them with robots or whatever. Intriguing, but you'd think the announcers would mention how inconsistent the strike zone has looked (according to PitchTrax, at least) if this were the case. I like this one, because I want to feel bad for the umpires, since they have a tough, thankless job that has been made even tougher and more thankless thanks to new technologies.5
• And then of course there's option C, which is: The announcers don't have HD cameras, and so they do not know about the new PitchTrax technology. This might explain most of Chip Caray's mistakes this postseason, too. This can be rectified before today's game: I just saw an HDTV for sale at my local CVS (really); quick, somebody head to a drugstore in L.A. and get an HD set for the booth!
• Of course, there's also option D, which might be the best of all: Simple incompetence, which is the simplest explanation and the one that is true many situations. This also explains Chip Caray, of course. This one could also get me off the hook if it turns out that the announcers in a series I didn't really pay much attention to -- Angels-Red Sox, for example -- talked about PitchTrax the entire time and about half this post has been moot.
1 I suppose I could make a call or two, but I already told Rob I'd finish this by 2 and it's already 2:30.
2 That PitchTrax demo also has a note that smokeless tobacco isn't harmless tobacco. Thanks, PitchTrax!
3 Warning: Anecdotal evidence. I think it makes sense, though.
4 Also, it'd be great if the pitches were color coded for balls, looking strikes and swinging strikes. I mean, my copy of MVP Baseball 2005 can do this.
5 Still, they could be a little better at it.