This week Major League Baseball proposed a series of rule changes that will affect the pace and action of the game. The two rules the MLB are planning on presenting to MLB Players Association are raising the strike zone and doing away with intentional walks. “Major League Baseball has made formal proposals to the players’ union to usher in both of those changes,” reports Jayson Stark of ESPN.com. But, they have not stopped there, Major league baseball also announced this week that they are testing a new extra-innings rule, to shorten the length of games that go into extras.
So let’s take a look at these two rule changes, as the purists (myself included) run for our safe spaces and anxiety pillows.
Raising the strike zone
The MLB has proposed raising the bottom part of the strike zone to “above the knee,” Stark reports. This would be a change from the current rule, found in the “Definition of Terms” section of the most current rule book, “the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.” The current proposition would raise the strike zone if enforced correctly, nearly two inches. Stark writes that it’s a move by professional baseball to get more balls into play and more action on the field as “nearly 30 percent of all hitters either walk or strike out — the highest rate of ‘non-action’ in the game’s history.”
Before everyone starts to get up in arms about this rule change, don’t. Major League Baseball has raised or lowered the strike zone numerous times in the game’s history. The version of the strike zone has been in place since 1996. If enforced correctly, and that is usually a big “if”, it would take away that maddening low strike, which infuriates fans. This is a decent change to the current rule; it will bring more action to games, and with more action comes more excitement for fans.
The next two proposals focus solely on pace-of-play during the game, and they are drastic changes to the game.
Automatic Intentional Walk
The intentional walk. Maybe one of the more frustrating sequences in baseball. Bottom of the ninth, a guy on second, which means now a base is open with your best hitter coming to the plate. In most cases this is the time we see the intentional walk come into play. Now, admittedly, they aren’t removing the intentional walk altogether, but they are looking to remove the fact that a pitcher actually has to deliver four balls wide of the strike zone for the intended purpose. In a day and age where the timing of games and “pace-of-play” is all the rage, this would remove according to Stark about “a minute of dead time per walk.” But the intentional walk is not always automatic. See people’s evidence exhibit A:
And Exhibit B (skip to 1:52):
What the League is proposing would eliminate this as a possibility altogether. When a team wants to walk a person, they no longer have to run the risk of actually throwing the ball–a fundamental aspect of the game itself. They would simply have to signal they want to walk that person, he goes to first,the next man is up. Yes, that saves a minute, but it also removes any risk that could dramatically affect the outcome of the game as shown in the examples above. Stark again says, “But MLB sees the practice of lobbing four meaningless pitches as antiquated, so eliminating them would serve as much as a statement as it would a practical attempt to speed up the game.”
The two above mentioned proposals are being presented to the MLBPA and must be accepted by them in order to take effect.
Lastly, Major League Baseball has decided to continue down the slippery slope of changing the game in the name of pace-of-play.
Extra-Innings, Extra Baserunner?
Along with the prior two rule change suggestions, MLB higher ups have decided to test a new rule for extra innings. In the very low reaches of the minor leagues, they will be trying out a new method for extra innings, by placing a man on second base to start the tenth inning and every subsequent inning after that.
From Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports:
“Let’s see what it looks like,” said Joe Torre, the longtime major league manager who’s now MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer and a strong proponent of the testing…“It’s baseball. I’m just trying to get back to that, where this is the game that people come to watch. It doesn’t mean you’re going to score. You’re just trying to play baseball.”
This is a rule that will definitely bring more action later in games but challenges the fundamental basis of the game itself. Understandably they want to drive action, but rewarding a guy with second base just to create that? This is the rule that has every purist in America gasping for air. According to Passan, “Even if it is a success, it would likely take years for the major leagues to adopt the changes.” So at least for now, the game will remain the same.
So there you have it. Nation, what do you think? Good changes? Bad changes?