A big change could loom for the 2017 season – the type that has ramifications that are very difficult to predict accurately in advance.
Jayson Stark reports that MLB has proposed to the Players Association that the bottom of the strike zone be raised. In the current rule book, the bottom of the zone is defined as the “hollow beneath the kneecap”, and has been there for 20 years. In the proposal, that bottom would be raised to the top of the knee.
It might not sound like much, but shrinking the bottom of the zone by one or two or three inches – even if only in the minds of umpires – could have significant consequences for pitchers who work down in the zone, and for most hitters (who generally hit more poorly down there than from above the knees to the belt (which is why pitchers, of course, work down there in the first place)).
MLB looked at this as early as last year, and we discussed the possible implications for Cubs pitchers, several of whom make a living down at the knees with impeccable command.
According to Stark’s report, MLB believes raising the strike zone slightly will have the effect of getting more balls put into play (an argument with which Joe Maddon took exception last year), which could improve the “pace” of games, and sometimes the length. It could theoretically increase offense, too, as a smaller, higher strike zone would favor hitters in an era where strikeouts keep creeping up. (But, note: offense was, overall, quite strong in baseball last year.)
We’ll see how the players feel about it, though – they’ll have only a little bit of time to respond to the proposal if it’s to be put in place for this season.
Meanwhile, a second change has been proposed, and it’s a familiar one: ditch the four “pitches” needed to effectuate an intentional walk. I’m pretty lukewarm on the intentional walk proposal. I could take it or leave it.
I know sometimes crazy things happen on intentional walk pitches, but those are so mathematically rare that they really aren’t worth a consideration in the discussion. Of course, I’d argue that the time/action saved by eliminating the pitches is barely a mathematical consideration either. Besides, intentional walks tend to come during heightened times during the game, and the build-up in intensity during the intentional walk process is often really quite thrilling.
All in all … whateves. If the pitches disappear, I won’t miss them. If they stick around, fine.
For me, I’m far more interested to see what happens with the strike zone proposal.