Tuesday, February 7, 2017

MLB proposes changes to strike zone, intentional walks

Major League Baseball has made a formal proposal to the players union seeking changes to intentional walks and the strike zone, according to an ESPN report.

The changes are designed to increase the amount of offense in the game and (get ready to groan) "improve the pace of play."

Am I the only one annoyed that people still are bitching about pace of play in baseball? The Super Bowl took three hours, 47 minutes to play this past Sunday night, yet nobody seemed to care. Why does it matter if baseball games take three hours to play?

I'm a baseball fan. I want more baseball, not less baseball, so sue me.

End rant, now back to the topic. Here are the details on the proposed rule changes, as reported by ESPN's Jayson Stark:
  • MLB's proposal would raise the lower part of the strike zone to the top of the hitter's knees. Since 1996, the bottom of the zone has been defined as "the hollow beneath the kneecap." But data shows that umpires have been increasingly calling strikes on so many pitches below the knees that, if umpires enforce the redefined strike zone, it would effectively raise the zone by an estimated 2 inches.
  • The change in the intentional-walk rule would end the long-standing practice of requiring the pitcher to toss four soft pitches outside the strike zone. Instead, a team could just signify it wants to issue an intentional walk, and the hitter would be sent directly to first base.
I don't understand how or why the intentional-walk rule is under scrutiny from these "pace of play" people. There were 932 intentional walks issued in 2016, which will pencil out to one every 47 innings or so. That means there was an intentional walk issued in about one out of every five games.

Intentional walks are a small part of the game. They aren't causing games to run longer. Most baseball games don't have any intentional walks issued at all. Why are we even talking about this? Who cares? I'm for the status quo unless someone can convince me there's a reason for a change. I see no reason for a change. Make the pitcher and the catcher execute the intentional walk. That's part of baseball.

Raising the strike zone? I'm a little more open to that discussion. I don't care about pace of play -- at all -- but I would be in favor of more balls being put in play. I don't necessarily need to see more run-scoring, but it would be more exciting if fewer at-bats resulted in strikeouts.

My question is, would raising the zone achieve that aim? Stark's report indicates that perhaps there would be more hitters' counts if pitchers weren't getting so many strike calls at the bottom of the zone. Theoretically, more hitters' counts means more pitches to hit, more well-struck balls and more offense.

OK, fine, experiment with it in the minor leagues, then report the results back to me and I'll consider it. But I'm only going to be in favor if it makes the game more exciting. I'm not amenable to making rule changes just to make the games go by faster.

I still haven't figured out why baseball is the only sport routinely criticized for "taking too long." Football games can last four hours and nobody says a thing about it. It's ridiculous to me.


  1. The way the offseason went, the big power/big strikeout hitters were all overpricing themselves. I'd like to think that Statcast is helping to quantify hitter contact quality to the point where the poor-contact and non-contact players are going to get devalued despite the above-average homerun totals. Chris Carter and Todd Frazier immediately come to mind, which is probably why Frazier is still on the team.

    In fact I'm pretty sure this has been happening for a while and the White Sox have been so far behind analytics trends that they have been the suckers at the trading table for guys like Frazier. It isn't pure chance that crud like Dunn, LaRoche, Frazier, Avi, etc. have fallen into the Sox lap. And I see no indication that they have improved in this area. But the Sox are such a "family" that there's not enough outside voices being brought in to point out the family dysfunction.

  2. I wouldn't say the Sox were suckers for trading for Frazier. Even though he was generally a disappointment, he still was a substantial improvement over a lackluster 3B situation. And they didn't give up squat in that deal.