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MLB experiments with rule changes

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The league taps into an independent league to take a swing at a few things.

Arizona Fall League All Star Game
What? A radar is gonna make the calls for me!?
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Fresh off talks that will bring no real rule changes to the big leagues is a Washington Post article laying out plans by MLB to begin experimenting with proposed rule changes a bit further away from the spotlight.

MLB has partnered with the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB) to begin experimenting with some of the proposed rule changes being lobbied around in talks with the MLBPA a few months ago. In exchange for allowing the MLB to play mad scientist the ALPB is receiving better scouting tools and a guarantee from the senior circuit to have more scouts present at ALPB games.

MLB’s Communications arm also provided a handy sheet for the proposed changes:

Some of the changes laid out should be welcome sights for some baseball fans: mound visits restricted only for pitching changes or injury, a 3 batter minimum for pitchers, and the long awaited debut of an electronic strike zone assistant for the home plate ump.

Of particular interest regarding the electronic strike zone is that the umpires have the ability to override the call made by the radar system. The system is meant to deliver the call to the umpire via earpiece and allow the ump to make the requisite gesture. While the efficacy of such a system has yet to be determined (hence it being tested in a lesser spotlight) one has to imagine what would happen should data begin to show trends of umpires overriding ball/strike calls in certain contexts (a particular player giving them a hard time or with a prior history, after a blown call, etc.).

The banning of the shift may elicit cheers from the purists in the pulpit. Requiring two infielders on each side of second base will offer hitters a reprieve from infielders preying on hitting tendencies and may provide the offensive spark Rob Manfred is hoping for with today’s modern game.

If that won’t do it, moving the mound back two feet just might. The Atlantic League will implement the distance change in the second half of their season. With the advent of pitchers throwing harder and usage of more specialized relievers such a distance change is meant to give more advantage to the batter. The pitching mound hasn’t experienced a change since 1968, only being lowered from 15 inches to 10 for the same reason: offense.

The change in base size from 15” square to 18” square could prove to offer quicker outs (three less inches for the ball to travel to the glove) and a larger target for runners to aim for (rather than the opposing player, but that’s another story). Player safety might be another reason for enlarging the bags.

It will be very interesting to see the results of the proposed changes after the Atlantic League wraps up their season and which changes may make their way to bigger stages. The dawn of the robot strike zone may be nigh.