According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, Major League Baseball has formally proposed two rule changes to the MLB Players’ Association. If adapted, these changes would raise the strike zone by about two inches, and eliminate the necessity of throwing four pitches off the plate when a team wanted to issue an intentional walk. The players would have to sign off on any proposed changes rather quickly if they are to be implemented for the 2017 season.
The change to the strike zone would raise the lower edge of the zone from “the hollow just below the knee” to just above the knee of the batter. In reality, umpires have been calling pitches lower than just below the knee as strikes for years. The two proposals have been approved by the owners’ competition committee and playing rules committee, and have been sent to the players’ union for approval.
The change to the intentional walk is one small way of speeding up the pace of the game. However, the impact would be minimal compared to other adaptations, such as installing a pitch clock, for example. American League teams issued 342 intentional walks last season, while 590 were given by National League clubs. The average AL team issued 22.8 intentional walks during the 2016 season. That’s a grand total of 89 pitches by each team per season that would not have to be thrown if the new rule were implemented.
Changes to the strike zone would have a far greater impact on the game. Rather than generating more offense, which means more scoring rallies, longer innings and longer games, the intent would be to induce fewer strike outs and more balls in play, which would actually speed up the game. While strikeouts have steadily been increasing over the years, well over two-thirds of balls in play result in outs, so the objective is to get quicker outs, and thus quicker games.
Players and owners reached a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) at the beginning of December, but the CBA does not deal with playing rules. Changes to the playing rules can be agreed upon at any time, but would have to be agreed upon during the offseason if they are to be implemented for the upcoming season. Pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training in less than 10 days, so time is of the essence if we are to see changes for the 2017 season.
As far as impact on the Detroit Tigers, a higher strike zone would not help pitchers with a high ground ball percentage such as Mike Pelfrey or Michael Fulmer. Detroit has its share of hitters who could take advantage of pitches up in the strike zone. The team ranked sixth in the American League in home runs in 2016.
Other changes which have been bandied about include installing pitch clocks, limiting the number of catcher trips to the mound, and limiting the number of pitching changes that a team can make per inning. So far, there is no indication that any of these ideas have gained any traction with either the owners or the players.