The downward expansion of the strike zone in recent years has been the subject of a great deal of discussion in the past six months or so, primarily as it relates to the decline in overall offensive production. The short version: the strike zone has grown downward considerably during the past half-decade, aiding the proliferation of both strikeouts and weak contact. In turn, strike zone expansion has directly contributed to a reduction in offense and balls in play. If you want it, here’s the long version.
It turns out, MLB has taken note of the public discourse on the subject, and stands ready to possibly do something about it.
Jeff Passan reports that MLB is considering changing the book definition of the strike zone, perhaps shrinking it to return some offense to the game. There are processes to go through before any such change could be implemented, and Passan indicates 2016 is the earliest an actual change could be in place, after the issue is observed more closely this season.
To that latter point, it’s conceivable – to me, at least – that just putting this on the radar for 2015 could impact the way umpires call the bottom of the zone. That, alone, could lead to increased offense and a smaller effective zone, even if the rule book remains unchanged. So this is going to be something to watch for this season.
In any case, regardless of the specifics here, I am once again very encouraged to see MLB moving quickly (for MLB) to address the long-term issues it is facing, and I hope this becomes a hallmark of the Rob Manfred administration. Baseball is a beautiful, unpredictable game, and I want to see future generations of fans getting into the sport. The league will have to remain proactive and open-minded to that end.
Some of you may be thinking about that other overarching issue facing baseball: length and pace of games. Well, reducing the strike zone in an effort to increase offense and balls in play probably does address the pace of games issue, if not the length. More offense could mean longer games, but, in theory, it would also mean more excitement in between pitches (for the kinds of fans MLB is trying to court over the long haul, anyway – yes, I know you’re super hardcore and you love pitchers’ duels).
I wouldn’t get too hung up on any Cubs-specific implications of this, both because any changes are probably far off and will be merely incremental, and because any changes will cut both ways. Sure, Cubs pitchers have increasingly lived at the bottom of the zone in the Chris Bosio era (so have most teams – at least they’ve tried), but the Cubs also have an enviable volume of big-time hitters on the way. In other words, moving the bottom of the strike zone up might hurt Cubs pitchers and help Cubs pitchers. I don’t expect either of those to be sufficiently disproportionate to the rest of the league that there’s a real net impact to the Cubs (as opposed to every team) here.