As you may recall, the independent Atlantic League has a relationship with Major League Baseball that allows MLB to seek experimental rules in the Atlantic League – for study purposes – in exchange for support the league gets from MLB.
Though MLB is already implementing in affiliated minor league baseball the rules changes we’ve discussed a great deal, there are two rules changes that are coming only to the Atlantic League this year:
• Double-Hook Designated Hitter Adjustment: The double-hook designated hitter will be modified. In 2021, teams lost their designated hitter when they removed the starting pitcher from the game. However, in 2022, if the starter is able to complete at least five innings, the designated hitter will be allowed to remain in the lineup for the entirety of the game. This rule intends to place emphasis on longer outings by starting pitchers.
• Dropped Pitch Rule: As in the second half of 2019, batters will be able to advance to first base on any pitch that is not caught in the air by the catcher, even with first base occupied by a runner. Those who get to first base safely will be awarded a hit. This rule will increase the importance of taking care of the baseball (e.g., pitching with command, receiving, and blocking pitches) and reward athletic players who are able to capitalize on wild pitches and passed balls.
First, as a general note, I LOVE the Double-Hook rule, and I would be fine with it being implemented immediately in MLB in its pure form (when the starting pitcher leaves, you lose your DH, period). But it’s clear that was seen as a little too aggressive by some, so that’s gotta be why this modified version is being tested.
I like almost any version of the Double-Hook, so I’d support it, though I don’t know if I love the idea of creating an artificial cut-off that could risk pitcher health. Yes, I *do* like the *strategy* involved in having to decide whether to try to get your starter through one more inning so you can keep your DH … or what if you have a great bench, then maybe you don’t mind? You have to balance all of that in the moment, and it’s a lot of fun (to say nothing of the value it adds to true starting pitchers in a traditional sense – there’s something here for all sides).
As for the Dropped Pitch Rule (aka stealing first base), I’d imagine it’s a lot more controversial. I can hear people saying “Mickey Mouse” in my head. I like the INTENT of the rule, especially in a world where there are automated balls and strikes – it preserves an important role for the catcher (who no longer has to “frame”). I just wonder if it’s too drastic to get widespread acceptance.
That said, you can imagine some downstream effects here, including pitchers being much more careful to stay catch-able against hitters with great speed (which could, in turn, allow those guys to put the ball in play more often, and then we get to see the speed more in the game). Pitchers will nasty stuff that they cannot control will probably be reduced in value, which, long-term, will emphasize a little more command.
Also, given how frequently we see guys NOT run to first base even with two strikes (as I scream at my TV), I’m not sure how often this actually comes into play. Probably less than we think at first. Maybe it’s not really a big deal either way. I’d call my initial reaction to this one “mixed,” but obviously it would be a lonnnnnng time before we could see it in the upper levels of the minors, much less in MLB.
The Double-Hook, though. Do it. Do it today.