Amid a tumultuous couple of years in MLB that have included major cheating scandals and an even larger global pandemic, most people might think the league should focus on the basics until things get back in order. That’s not the MLB way, though, and brass have decided that now is a great time to play around with the rules. It’s going to introduce a series of experimental rules in minor league ball that some might consider ill-timed.
MLB Targets The Strike Zone
Starting in the Southeast League later this season, teams are going to begin using what MLB is calling the automated ball-strike system (ABS). It will be used in select games and is designed to determine the “optimal strike zone for the system” before a larger rollout. It has been used in the Arizona Fall League and the Atlantic League; however, that version was just the beta edition. The new version will call balls and strikes by monitoring a two-dimensional plane at the leading edge of the plate, instead of the beta’s three-dimensional plane that covers the entire plate.
One recurring theme that has been echoed each season since baseball began is the pace of the game. Some feel that games fall into a lull and that measures should be taken to increase the pace. MLB has already tested a couple of different solutions, but will now add a new one. The West League is going to see a 15-second pitch clock to speed up games, and this one is likely to make its way quickly to MLB.
MLB also wants to see what happens to the pace of the game by placing more restrictions on pitchers. Going forward across all minor leagues, at least for now, pitchers will be limited in their ability to step off the rubber. They can only attempt a pickoff or step off twice per at-bat, with a third attempt forcing a balk and a free base. In addition, pitchers will have to step off the rubber before trying the pickoff and the number of stolen base attempts is expected to increase as a result. This rule was added to the Atlantic League in 2019, and there were 70% more attempts at base-stealing as a result.
Shifting A Thing Of The Past
Controversial to say the least, MLB is putting its foot down with infield shifting. In Double-A, infielders will have to have both feet on the dirt at all times. Depending on how this works, MLB could make a more drastic change and require two infielders on each side of second base at all times. According to the league’s logic, “These restrictions on defensive positioning are intended to increase the batting average on balls in play.”
Unsurprisingly, this rule hasn’t received a lot of enthusiasm and few are convinced that it’s even needed. Bradford Doolittle, an ESPN MLB analyst, points out that teams should be able to set up their defenses as necessary, and that MLB can explore a number of other routes to accomplish its goal. One of these, deadening the ball, is already on the table and the league’s move to a new baseball this season could allow for more hits.
In another interesting move that seems more gimmicky than anything else, MLB is bringing bigger bases to Triple A. Each side of the base will now be three inches longer, which will put the front edge of first base at 88’6” from home plate. The league believes this will have a “modest impact” on the number of successful stolen base attempts and will allow more runners to get on base from ground balls. Who knows what’s next; perhaps MLB will prohibit teams from throwing out a player at first.