Major league baseball is heading for major changes in 2017. With the collective bargaining agreement between the players' union and team owners set to expire, there are already a lot of off-field issues at play. Now two big changes appear likely that will have an effect in how the game itself is played.
Jayson Stark of ESPN reports that major league baseball's competition committee has approved raising the strikezone to the top of the hitter's kneecap. Currently, the bottom of the zone is defined as "the hollow beneath the kneecap" but in practice, it has crept even lower than the rulebook definition in recent years.
In addition, the committee has agreed to allow teams to issue intentional walks without actually throwing the four balls normally required. That change is designed to speed up the game, particularly in high leverage situations where intentional walks can interrupt an inning at its most dramatic points. Teams would instead simply indicate a free pass, and the batter would be awarded first base.
Tragically, a moment like this one may never come again.
The implications of the change to the strikezone are far more wide-reaching. Several teams may have to completely rethink their pitching staffs. Pairing groundball pitchers with great pitch framing, and heavy use of defensive shifts has been at the heart of the Pittsburgh Pirates' approach, for example, as illustrated in the recent book, Big Data Baseball. That methodology may have to be reconsidered, as less low strikes means a hard time coming for sinkerballers around the league.
And, it must be said, the future of a guy like Mike Pelfrey looks seriously in doubt.
The open question is whether these changes will have the results MLB commissioner Rob Manfred desires. The rise of strikeouts and walks in recent years has been characterized as a concern, taking away from balls in play and the type of action baseball wants on the field. However, until pitchers adjust, losing that low strike may simply result in more walks. Eventually though, pitchers will be forced to pitch up just a little more regularly, and more hard-hit balls seems the likely outcome for pitchers who don't have swing and miss stuff, nor the ability to pitch at the top of the strikezone successfully.
The two changes will have to be approved by the playing rules committee, headed by New York Mets GM, Sandy Alderson and composed of baseball executives from across the league. If that happens, the changes will be presented to the players as part of the new collective bargaining negotiations. However, they do not require the players' approval for implementation. As a result, both seem very likely to be put into place next season.
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Best plays by the fans
The players aren't the only ones flashing the leather so far this season.