KBO expands strike zone for automated system, announces pitch clock rules

The South Korean baseball league announced Thursday it will expand the strike zone with the new automated ball-strike system (ABS) in place beginning in the 2024 season. The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) earlier decided to adopt the ABS, colloquially called the robot umpire, in 2024 to ensure accuracy and fairness in ball-strike calls. The ABS uses tracking technology to determine balls and strikes, and relays the call to the home plate umpire through an earpiece. With the ABS in place, the KBO said the strike zone will expand by 2 centimeters on either side of the home plate. This was to guard against a sudden increase in walks, the KBO said, adding that it took cues from a decision by Major League Baseball (MLB) to widen the zone by 2.5 cm on each side when its minor leagues adopted the ABS in 2022. The top of the ABS strike zone will be set at 56.35 percent of a hitter's height, and the bottom is going to be at 27.64 percent. Regardless of where the catcher ends up catching the ball, a pitch will be called a strike as long as it goes through the zone, the league said. The KBO also released specifics of the pitch clock rules. The league had initially proposed putting the pitch clock in place for 2024, but the board of directors, made up of 10 club presidents, decided earlier this month to put it on a test run for the first half of the new season. The league will then decide whether to use the pitch clock on a full basis in the second half. Pitchers must deliver a pitch within 18 seconds with the bases empty, and 23 seconds with runners on. When MLB introduced the pitch clock in 2023, pitchers faced a 15-second limit with no one on, and a 20-second limit with runners aboard. Players will have 30 seconds to resume play between batters, the same standard as MLB. The catcher must be in his box with nine seconds left on the clock, and the batter must be ready to hit with eight seconds to go. A violation will result in a ball for the pitcher or a strike for the hitter. Batters will be limited to one tim eout per plate appearance, so that they won't be able to keep stopping the clock. Pitchers will each get three "disengagements" per batter, one more than MLB. Disengagements include stepping off the mound, making a pickoff throw, faking a pickoff throw and a timeout by the defensive team. A fourth disengagement will result in a balk, unless the pitcher can retire a batter with a pickoff throw. The pitch clock is part of the KBO's yearslong effort to speed up the game. In 2023, the nine-inning game went for three hours and 12 minutes on average in the KBO. In MLB, the pitch clock was credited with reducing the length of MLB games by over 20 minutes to 2:40 in 2023. Source: Yonhap News Agency