Earlier this week we saw some rules changes that are very likely coming to Major League Baseball in 2020. The rules, though, aren’t necessarily ones that will change what happens in play. Earlier this spring we also heard that the Atlantic League had come to an agreement with Major League Baseball that will allow them to change the rules on the field as experiments to allow Major League Baseball to study their effects on the game. There were many ideas proposed, but today we’ve learned what those rule changes are, as first reported by Jacob Bogage of The Washington Post.

  • The mound will be at 62′ 6″ – two feet further than Major League Baseball uses. This will take place in the second half of the season.
  • Bases will now by 18 inch squares. That’s 3 inches larger on each side than they are currently.
  • Teams can no longer shift their defenders on the infield. Two infielders must be on each side of second base.
  • The strikezone will be “radar enforced”. They will use Trackman for this.
  • Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, or reach the end of the inning before being replaced.
  • Coaches can not visit the mound unless the pitcher is being removed from the game. The catcher/other players are also not permitted to visit the mound.

There’s a lot to unravel here. But let me first say that I think two of these are worth exploring. The others are ones that I’m pretty strongly against, and I will lay it out below as to why. Let’s start with the two ideas that I am in favor of exploring.

Larger bases isn’t something that goes against much. An extra 3-inches can sort of change things in terms of the throw to the bag needs to be ever so slightly shorter. On a true bang-bang play, with replay, that could change things. But it’s something that isn’t going to happen often at all. It does make play at the bag a tad bit safer, too. That extra space makes it slightly less likely a runner comes into contact with a fielder. Again, this rarely happens as is – so it’s a minimal effect here.

The other one I’m in favor of is radar-enforced strikezones. Major League Baseball has been using either Pitch F/X or Trackman to show fans, almost in real time (and at times in real time on television) pitch tracking, for over a decade now. Fans are used to seeing this in action. Teams have been using this information for nearly as long to help them with their evaluation of pitchers, catchers, and even umpires.

With that said, there are some things that are challenges here. Trackman has some imperfections. It also goes down at times (I’ve been around for more than a few times when the system simply stopped working and needed to be reset, which takes times – are they going to put the game on hold if and when this happens?). How will the strikezone be set for various hitters? The zone is different for players based on their height/strance on the top and bottom of the zone, and it’s not, by definition, necessarily able to be set before the player is ready to swing. Who/what is confirming the strikezone being called is accurate? These things aren’t perfect and can have issues. How often are they checking that the system isn’t “out of whack”, so to speak?

All of that said, I do think it’s worth exploring. The fact that umpires have different strikezones based on who is pitching, or who is hitting, and either their reputation or experience level, is bad for the game. And then there’s the whole “pitch framing” aspect of “tricking” the umpire into calling a pitch a strike or a ball. That shouldn’t happen. This, in theory, could eliminate such things and make the game fair across the board.

Now let’s talk about the other stuff. Eliminating the shift is stupid. It’s dumb. And it does not really do much to change the game. We’ve seen study after study show that the shift is not hurting the game of baseball. I will concede to the idea that I do think it’s a bit unfair that you can shift on lefties and take away a few hits a season that you can’t do against righties. But by and large, this move is going to have an impact that is so small that you can’t notice it. Taking away a strategy to give a slight edge in hit prevention is strange. Are they going to ban the cut fastball in order to also try to give a slight edge back to hitters? Just seems strange to me.

Limiting the number of hitters faced isn’t something I’m going to be strongly for or against. I get both sides of it. I don’t mind the one-out-guy in baseball. Use your bench to counter their one-out-guy. This is about speeding up the game, but what’s it actually saving, 2 minutes of a 3 hour game? Meh.

No mound visits unless you are making a pitching change is another one of these moves that is only for saving time. And again, what are we talking about here? 3-4 minutes, max, of saved time in a 3 hour game? And will it even do that? If a pitcher is struggling because of something mechanical, the coach can’t go out there and tell them? Now you just get to watch the pitcher either get lit up, or struggle to throw strikes, and the saved time doesn’t exist anymore.

And finally, the big one: Moving the mound back to 62′ 6″. This is extremely stupid. And it’s going to lead to pitchers getting hurt. While different leagues and levels around the country have different times/ages when you start throwing from 60′ 6″, I believe I was 12 when the league that I played in made that move. For the next 6 years that’s the distance in which I threw a baseball from the mound. That’s when my playing career ended. But for professionals it certainly won’t.

Breaking balls work at 60′ 6″. Add two feet to a slider and it’s going to “bite” and land in front of the plate almost every single time. Unless you are trying to throw with more effort to get it further. Which is going to lead to injuries. Same for a curveball. Or a fastball.

I just won’t get on board this train. This is a terrible switch and it’s going to get guys hurt. If I’m a pitcher trying to get back into affiliated baseball there is absolutely no way that I’m pitching in The Atlantic League after mid-season of 2019 with a new mound distance. There are other independent leagues out there. If you can pitch, the scouts will find you. Don’t risk your health because a team might be able to get some Trackman data on you. There’s a local facility that has a Trackman or Rhapsado that can get that for you from 60′ 6″.

27 Responses

  1. Dan

    OK, and just to be clear… these changes you listed ONLY apply to the Atlantic League for now, right?

    • Doug Gray

      Right. But the rules were set by Major League Baseball in an agreement with The Atlantic League so MLB can explore if they are worth bringing to their side of things.

  2. Gaffer

    I agree that changing the length the mound is incredibly stupid. Just lower it!

    Electronic strike zone is an absolute must for the game, every day that goes by without it is unfair to players and fans.

    While I want to speed up the game, the 3 batter limit seems not well thought thru. I would suggest that there be a rule that whoever starts an inning can be pulled anytime but the next pitcher must face the minimum number of batters that the first pitcher would have if they stayed in the game. This would prevent the starter from warming up only to be taken down for a pinch hitter.

    • Norwood Nate

      I agree with just about everything you mention. Moving the mound back seems like a disaster waiting to happen. I’d hate to see guys get hurt over an unnecessary experiment like this. And I’ve been a huge proponent of an electronic strike zone for a long time. If we’re looking for a more fairly and consistently called game, this is the best place to begin. I don’t really get the 3 batter limit either, seems like it just takes some strategy out of game for the sake of saving a couple minutes. Are people going to stop watching because the game ends at 10:03 instead of 10:00? No.

      • MuddyCleats

        As a long time umpire, the electronic K zone will extend games IMO. Not only will hitters put more balls in play, but the Hard Contact Rate will also go up. Hard Hit Balls could b caught or fielded, but they’ll have a better chance of falling in and thereby extend games IMO. However, more contact should provide more action for the fans. Keep in mind, the HP Umpire will not be replaced; he will still be needed for fair & foul calls, plays at plate and player/ball contact calls in and around the plate. Like the extended base idea; it should provide more surface area & more safety for all. Still believe they need double bag at 1st to prevent injuries there. Like others, I would rather control trips to mind w/ visit/TO limits and increasing Pitching distance just seems crazy. Any breaking pitch will require much more arm stress and likely more injuries ?

  3. MK

    Since home plate is a base, will home plate be 6″ wider. If the foul line will still run next to the outside of 1st and 3rd base it means with the addition of 3 inches to the sides of second, it means the distance will be 9″ closer. If home plate is not larger it mean the distance from home to first and third to home will be closer than 1st to second and 3rd to home. It seems all the changes would help offense and make games longer.

  4. Bill

    I hate the mound idea and I really don’t like mandating pitchers face a certain # of batters. I would prefer to see teams get a set # of time outs vs. limiting visits. Time outs could be of the “30-second” variety (think catcher or infielder visiting the mound) or “full time outs” with a coach coming from the dugout w/a 90-second or 2-minute limit. I do think baseball needs to speed the game up, but I don’t want to ML baseball become fundamentally different than every other level.

  5. Doc

    Fortunately, the effects of these changes will be assessed based on actual experimental data rather than opinions with absolutely no data or experience to support them.

    A lot of people didn’t like the DH 40 years ago and were vehemently against it, it got tried, it stuck, the game did not waste into oblivion and opinions changed. As far as I am concerned, once the DH bastardized the game, everything else is fair game.

    Why do bases need to be square? Make first and third 3” longer down the line, but keep the same width. Make second bigger in the direction toward left and toward right, but no closer to either first or second, and the same distance from home plate.

    I’m against monkeying around with home plate until the strike zone is uniformly called. Only with a uniform strike zone can one truly assess whether changing it might make a difference. I’ve seen far too many videos of Greg Maddux strikes called for pitches that were six inches outside the plate. Widen the plate, and still have umpires calling them as they see them rather than as they happen and you won’t be able to make bats long enough to reach what will get called.

  6. SultanofSwaff

    I’m open to everything except moving the mound back. Yes, make it lower instead. That said, I think they’re moving it back considerably so that they can get a definitive answer on whether it increases offense dramatically. Heck, let’s find out.

    It seems as though the totality of these time saving measures won’t really be saving time, but rather substituting this dead time for games with more offense. I’m open to that in theory.

  7. 44Reds

    I agree with most of your points except the mound visits. While eliminating unnecessary mound visits will have minimal impact on the overall length of the game, it will have a tangible impact on momentum in the second half of the ball game. Furthermore, it can’t hurt anything as no one really loves the tradition of the unnecessary mound visits. It’s not just about decreasing game length, it’s also about increasing the sense of action. This seems like low hanging fruit.

  8. Jim

    I’m old. I hate change. I know more dead people than living.
    Hate rule changes due to records, but I’m in favor of going electronic and getting rid of the umpires, therefore my ticket or beer becomes cheaper.

    • Doug Gray

      Your ticket is never getting cheaper. Sorry to burst that bubble, Jim.

    • Joe

      Lol. Your ticket wouldn’t be cheaper if they paid the players minimum wage.

  9. Scott C

    I’m with you on the moving the pitchers plate back 2 and 1/2 inches. It is just plain stupid. I am for using a computerized system for the strike zone if the bugs can be worked out and there is someway to adjust for different heights and stances. If not then you are still have at best an inconsistent or at worse an unfair, to some players, strike zone. The rest of them I don’t see much difference they will make.

    • Doc

      Where is the science that established the pitching rubber at 60 feet, 6 inches? There is none. Where is the science that says moving it back a couple of feet would cause major injuries? There is none.

      I agree with the sentiment that shortening games by 10-20 minutes will not put plus posteriors in seats. Games that start at 7:00-7:05 are going to end 9:30 or later. For people who have to work the next morning, or whose kids need to go to school, it is not the length of games, it is the time they end.

      • MuddyCleats

        Where is the proof any of these changes will shorten games? A strict K zone will likely lead to more walks & more hard contact especially fm 62.5 ft which would likely lead 2 more scoring & longer innings …. The entire idea is 2 collect data. I know there are leagues using electronic K zones now – not sure if it has shortened their games

      • MuddyCleats

        Hey Doc, I did find a few articles where MLB says HP Umps are 98% correct on balls and strikes now if you believe that. 98% and many still saying games last too long ?

      • Doug Gray

        I will double check on what I saw yesteday, but I saw that the worst umpire was at 88% and the best was just below 93%.

        The thing is, though – most calls are actually easy. It’s that 10% of the calls that are borderline that are very important.

  10. JasonP

    I don’t understand why so many changes are being done to cut minutes out of a game. How many people out there say that 2 hour and 40 min game is to long and won’t watch or go to a game but suddenly will if the game is 2 hour 20 min?

    If you don’t want to stay at a game for over 2 hours you don’t have to. You can leave at any time. You don’t have to stay for extra innings as well.

    With how many people are on their phones could it not be thought of a good thing if there are pauses in a game where someone could check their phones and not be watching something constantly for 2 hours?

    I am almost 40 and never got hooked on my phone but I think that for those that are they need to add more to the game and not take away from it. It would be fun to have interactive games to play at the stadium on your phone.

    Examples to come up on your phone

    Trivia… How many Red’s players have made an all star steam with a last name that starts with the letter L.

    Baseball stats… Votto comes up to the plate and your Red’s app tells you he has hit over 400 in the last ten games and is a career 333 hitter in 9 at bats against this pitcher.

    Interactive games. Guess what the next 3 Red’s hitters will do. How many strikeouts will Red’s pitchers get. Add up all the points and at the end of the game or by the 7th inning and someone wins something. Like a Red’s hat, free food for this or your next game, name on the board for everyone to see.

    It makes more sense to me to add something to the game instead of taking something away.

  11. Doc

    When I played competitive golf and my swing went haywire, there was no time out to call and no coach to come out to tell me what mechanics were off. In fact, it was prohibited by the rules of the game.

    Especially at the major league level, and the highly ranked, comfortably bonused players, I have no problem with them having to figure out their mechanics during a game on their own, without coaches coming out to instruct them. It would also be another argument for more rational compensation of minor leaguers so they, too, would have the time to learn their mechanics well and learn the mental checklist to run through to make corrections on the fly. It might actually improve the overall quality of pitching. Who knows?

    These guys should be able to run through their mental checklist and straighten themselves out. If they can’t do it, they can be yanked. Managers will have to make strategic decisions.

    I have no problem with the pitch to three players or an inning’s end rule. The game was played for 100 years with starters going longer and relievers pitching to more than one hitter. Reverting to a game that is a little closer to yesteryear would not break my heart as much as sitting through endless delays breaks my, well, some other part of my anatomy.

    • Joe

      With the 3 batter rule, you know they will make exceptions for injuries. So they will just claim the pitcher tweaked somethin and they are removing him to have it looked at by the trainer. This, and all the others are stupid rules. Made by the same kind of person that puts money in free parking in Monopoly.

      Watch the language.

  12. SteveLV

    Most of the changes outlined seem fine to try – I think technology should replace officiating, generally, and the technology is there to do so now, for example.
    But the idea of moving the mound back 2 feet – particularly in the middle of the season – seems crazy to me. Granted, it was a long time ago, but I pitched through college. Moving the mound back that much feels like it would change most everything. Every pitcher has learned how to get movement or break in pitches at the best spot – from 60’ 6” away. Those pitches from 2 feet further are completely different pitches. Giving the hitter 2 more feet to see and time a fastball seems like a huge advantage. Command will be more important while being more difficult. I think pitchers would have to develop a completely different approach to the game, mentally and physically. And they are going to have to do it on the fly – pitch in a game Wednesday at 60-6 and come back the following week and pitch from 62-6. Crazy.

  13. MK

    I like the human factor of umpires. I like that pitchers need to adjust to the umpires each game. We could just let the computers play the game and put the image on the Jumbotron and watch it. That way Lorenzen could pitch and play centerfield at the same time.

  14. mark l

    Hey Doug, a few years ago, I saw a study that showed lowering the mound would decrease stress on a pitcher’s arm and since then, I have been fully on board with that change. If the goal is more balls in play (I assume that is what they are trying to do with backing up the mound), why isn’t the lowering of the mound being seriously considered? Have you heard anything on this as to why they won’t try it? It’s puzzling to me that they would try backing up before lowering.

    • Muddycleats

      Good Pt; believe they have lowered mound height before?

  15. RedFuture

    Moving the distance from the mound to the plate is beyond the pail stupid on all counts! It will be interesting to see if they hold to that idea at the halfway point. I’m certainly in favor of the automated strike zone. As an engineer I don’t see any impediment to utilizing individualized strike zone heights per player. These measurements would be made prior to the season and loaded into a database. Accessing this data during a game would be so instantaneous as to be transparent. It seems that this system could simultaneously enforce that players cannot flick an elbow, shoulder, knee or foot toward the ball for the purpose of being hit.

    I think it would improve the game to constrain the way defenses can be employed. I think every other game has such a notion. Continue to allow three defenders on either side but remain in the dirt.

    Long extra inning games have to much an adverse effect on teams for several days afterwards. I’d like to see games still tied after 12 innings be suspended until the next time opponents meet (usually the next day or series). Here’s the revolutionary part: Beginning the next day with the 13th inning each lead-off batter is intentionally walked. Hopefully the game will produce a winner sooner than later and should go a long way to reducing the stress on a bullpen and roster. I’m definitely against putting a runner directly on 2nd base to start an inning!

    I’ve tried to come up with a way to limit the pick-off throws a pitcher can make to 1B. Help me out here. Is it unreasonable give the pitcher a stash of 3 pick-off tosses at the beginning of each at-bat and allow him to earn another for each strike or foul ball?

    • RedFuture

      Just one more thing……… I would not be upset about ruling the batter out after 9 pitches after not walking nor putting the ball in play!