Last week, Major League Baseball revealed that it had reached an agreement with the independent Atlantic League to use it as an experimental test ground for various rules under consideration by MLB.
Today, the full parameters of those experimental rules were announced, and, yes, they are significant:
— MLB Communications (@MLB_PR) March 8, 2019
To be crystal clear, it’s not at all a lock that these rules changes – any of them – will ever reach affiliated minor league baseball, let alone MLB. But that’s the whole point of doing things this way: now MLB can get some actual data and anecdotal experience, rather than just debating things philosophically and then pulling the trigger on changes that could fundamentally alter MLB in ways not expected.
My immediate thoughts on the seven rules, in the order mentioned above…
- Radar-assisted strike zone: I don’t necessarily want to see the human element removed entirely, as much as that makes me a dinosaur. But if the technology is fool proof enough, then why not use it in some assistive way, much like instant replay? If it can be done in a way that doesn’t significantly muck up the pace of the game, I’m fine with it.
- No mound visits aside from medical issues or pitching changes: Why? No visits at all? Sometimes a catcher just needs to round up with his pitcher. Not sure I see the need to COMPLETELY take that away, even as I’m fine with limiting mound visits.
- Minimum three batters faced for pitchers: I have always been on board with checking this one out. Single-batter reliever situations are tedious, slow, and create match-ups that overwhelmingly favor pitchers in un-fun ways. I think a three-batter minimum (or even just two) could introduce new strategy into pitcher usage and lineup creation.
- Increasing the sizes of the bases: OK. If you’re not gonna turn them into trampolines, I guess that’s fine.
- Two infielders on each side of second base (aka, killing the extreme shift): I am fine with this one, but I understand I’m in the minority. I can see a dramatic improvement in *action on the field* (not necessarily “offense”) with this one, as defenders will have to range further to make plays, and the value of simply putting the ball in play will go way up. I understand why people resist this one – I did, too, for a long time – but give it some thought.
- Time between innings reduced: YAS. Do that at the big league level tomorrow.
- Distance from the mound to home plate increased by two feet: Yeah, that’s the big, headline-grabber. I would’ve been more about lowering the mound (on the same idea), but I get what they’re going for here: fewer strikeouts. Pitchers increasingly have the advantages in velocity gains and data/analytics, and batters have responded – for that reason and many others – by maxing out for power, regardless of whiffs. And since pitchers are even better at getting whiffs, the problem (if you see it as one) compounds itself. I do tend to think action on the field is good for the long-term health of the game, so I support moves designed to increase that. Is this the right one? I will sit back and wait to hear what pitchers and hitters think, and what the impact is.
In the aggregate, I really look forward to seeing how these rules play out, especially in advance of CBA negotiations. Like with the pitch clock in the minor leagues, it’s just going to be good to have some actual data and experiences.