Posted on February 7, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
Ever since assuming office more than two years ago, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has let it be known that he’d like to improve baseball’s pace of play. That continues to be true with two new rule changes MLB has proposed to the Players Union, according to a report from ESPN’s Jayson Stark. The proposed changes relate to the strike zone and the intentional walk.
The first proposed rule change would raise the bottom of the strike zone. Since the mid 1990s, the official strike zone as been “the hollow beneath the kneecap.” However, most umpires have become prone to calling the low strike, going below what is stated in the rule book. The changes would essentially raise the strike zone by roughly two inches to the top of the batter’s kneecap, making it more difficult for umpires to call a strike on a pitch below the knee.
The idea behind the rule is to force pitchers to get the ball up in the zone instead of relying on umpires calling the low strike. This would, at least in theory, create more balls in play, as pitches up in the zone would be more attractive to hitters than pitches low in the zone. With more balls in play, there would be fewer strikeouts and fewer walks, meaning an increase in action. A lack of action has been one of Manfred’s biggest complaints during his time as commissioner.
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Meanwhile, the proposed rule change involving the intentional walk would eliminate the need for pitchers to go through the action of purposely throwing four pitches out of the strike zone in order to walk a batter. Under the proposed change, a manager would merely signal to the umpire that they want to issue an intentional walk, and the batter will be able to move right to first base. From Manfred’s perspective, this would eliminate a minute or so of “non action” during the course of a game.
Of course, traditionalists will argue that pitchers should be forced to go through the motions, as there are instances, rare as they may be, in which the pitcher throws a wild pitch during an intentional walk. However, MLB views the intentional walk as a way that the game can be expedited, especially since most occur late in games when the game is already more than two or three hours old.
According to Stark, MLB introduced the two proposed rule changes to the Players Union in January, and it’s now up to the union to decide whether or not to accept them. The union is currently getting feedback from players on whether they would be receptive to the changes or not. Early indications are that change the intentional walk rule is more likely to be accepted than a change to the strike zone. Most hitters would favor the strike zone change, whereas pitchers may be hesitant to give up the low strike, and so it may be difficult for a vast majority of the players to agree one way or another.
With spring training games set to get underway in a little more than two weeks, there is some semblance of a deadline for the Players Union to make a decision. MLB did mention the possible changes to the union last summer, and so the players should have a good idea of how they feel about the proposed rules. Whether these rules are implemented in time for the season or not, after a new labor agreement was signed during the winter, Manfred can put his full attention to implementing “pace of play” rules like the two being proposed right now.