New look Astros

2013 Preview: what’s new in the new season?

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For the past few days we’ve been previewing the 2013 season. Next up: new things to watch for in the coming year.

We’ve previewed the teams, so now let’s look at some of the new things to watch for in 2013:

Rules changes

Nothing too drastic, but the changes that were made will be pretty visible:

  • When visiting the mound, managers and coaches will be allowed to bring interpreters with them in the event the pitcher is not fluent in English. No word on whether Phillies pitchers gets interpreters to translate manager Charlie Manuel’s 1940s detective novel slang-speak (hint: “what’s the rumpus?” is Manuelese for “how does your arm feel?” and “give this guy the kiss-off” is when he orders an intentional walk;
  • Teams will be allowed to have seven uniformed coaches in the dugout. Previously the limit was six. This change was necessitated because many teams have hired assistant hitting coaches. Which I suppose was simpler than spending the effort trying to figure out what the existing hitting coaches actually do in the first place; and
  • The pickoff move in which a right-handed pitcher fakes to third base and throws to first is now a balk. Broadcasters are now scrambling to find another oftentimes useful play which they can erroneously claim “never works.”

Schedule changes

With the Houston Astros going from the National League to the American League, giving us 15 teams in each league, it will now be required that, at all times, an interleague series be taking place. This contrasts with past practice of interleague series all occurring during specified blocs during the season. This will also lead to teams playing 20 interleague games a piece instead of the 15-18 interleague games in previous years. There will still be the old construct of “interleague rivals” which in good cases lead to series like Yankees vs. Mets and Giants vs. Athletics. And in bad cases lead to Pirates vs. Tigers and Astros vs. Rockies. Eh, this is where we are now. Those of us who remember and pine for the days of the NL and AL being separate are closer to AARP membership than we are to relevance in this now-over debate.

New Managers

Six teams will sport new managers in 2013:

  • The Red Sox fired Bobby Valentine and hired former Blue Jays manager John Farrell;
  • The Indians fired Manny Acta and hired former Red Sox manager Terry Francona;
  • Jim Tracy resigned as Colorado Rockies manager and was replaced by rookie manager Walt Weiss;
  • The Astros fired Brad Mills before last season ended and hired former Nationals coach Bo Porter;
  • The Marlins fired Ozzie Guillen after one season and replace him with rookie manager Mike Redmond; and
  • The Blue Jays essentially traded John Farrell to the Red Sox and hired former manager John Gibbons

Uniform changes

  • The Astros, befitting a team with a new owner, new front office, new manager, new league and a throughly-reamed roster, have a whole new look. Gone are the brick red/sand colored uniforms of old and back come the traditional orange and blue the team sported from their inception and on through the early 90s. There’s a bit of a twist to the orange and blue look — they’re not throwbacks to the rainbow days — but it is definitely a familiar and welcome look;
  • The Mets are going with two new alternate jerseys: a home alternate with “Mets” in script and a road alternate featuring “NEW YORK” in block. These look at lot like the 1980s duds.
  • The Cardinals are joining the trend of off-white home alternates which almost always look fantastic. They are also adding “St. Louis” to their road uniforms for the first time in 80 years. All teams should have their city name on the front of the jersey. It’s just cool. And frankly, probably leads to more jersey sales due to local pride and stuff like that.
  • The Pirates have a new home alternate for Sunday games. It’s essentially a throwback to their look from the 1970s, complete with the yellow caps.
  • The White Sox continue last year’s tradition of an alternate throwback uniform. This year it honors the 1983 team. This is a guilty pleasure uniform for me even though it came from the dark days of the pullover double knits; and
  • The Brewers are going to go all-gold on special occasions which they used a couple years ago but had abandoned for a while.

Of course, for all the changes, it will still be baseball.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: