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MLB has made formal proposals to raise the strike zone, change intentional walk procedure

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ESPN’s Jayson Stark reported on Monday that Major League Baseball made formal proposals to the players’ union, suggesting that the strike zone should be raised to the top of a hitter’s knees and that the procedure of a pitcher lobbing four pitches way outside the strike zone should be eliminated. According to Stark, the union is still getting a feel for the players’ opinions on the proposed changes.

The suggestions are part of commissioner Rob Manfred’s attempt to improve the “pace of action.” As Ashley discussed on Friday, the implementation of a pitch clock is another avenue Manfred is exploring.

According to Baseball Reference, there were 0.19 intentional walks issued per game in 2016, the lowest figure among years with available data. The second- and third-lowest years were 2014 and ’15 at 0.20. Let’s arbitrarily make up a number and say that it takes, on average, 30 seconds between pitches during an intentional walk. That means that eliminating this change would save about two minutes once every five games, or 24 seconds per game. Not very meaningful. And then we’d miss out on potentially great moments like this:

And this:

The proposed strike zone change is interesting. As Stark notes, the strike zone has been defined as “the hollow beneath the kneecap” since 1996. However, the ongoing decline in offense is, in part, due to umpires gradually calling strikes lower and lower beyond the rulebook definition. The strikeout rate has ballooned as a result. Raising the strike zone would encourage pitchers to throw pitches closer to the “good” part of the strike zone for the hitter, so we would likely see more contact, fewer deep counts, and more base runners. That means a slightly faster and more action-packed game. Stark points out in his column that nearly 30 percent of hitters walk or strike out for the game’s highest “non-action” rate in the history of the sport.

The biggest culprit in the perceived slow pace of a typical baseball game is the pitching change. Here’s an example from July 1 last season between the Indians and Blue Jays. In the bottom of the eighth in a 1-1 game, manager Terry Francona brought in right-hander Dan Otero to pitch to Devon Travis. Otero got Travis to line out to right field on the fourth pitch of the at-bat. Francona then brought in lefty Tom Gorzelanny to face Michael Saunders. Saunders struck out on six pitches. Francona brought in his third pitcher to face the third batter of the inning, Jeff Manship versus Russell Martin. Martin struck out on six pitches. Three batters, three pitchers, 14 pitches thrown. Since there’s a commercial break in between pitching changes lasting between two and three minutes, Francona added at least four minutes of down time with his strategy.

Managers making excessive pitching changes in one inning doesn’t happen very often, but then again, neither does the intentional walk. Focusing on limiting the down time between pitching changes would seem to be a more productive use of time if the goal is to improve the pace of a typical game. Doing so is tricky, however. Making it so that pitchers entering in the middle of an inning can’t warm up on the mound would seem like an obvious fix, but one could argue that it increases a pitcher’s risk of injury by a non-negligible amount. Strictly limiting the number of pitching changes a manager can make in an inning doesn’t feel good because it hamstrings strategy. Eliminating the commercial break and instead having TV broadcasts focus on something to entertain the audience while the pitcher warms up would cost broadcasters too much advertising money. No matter what happens, somebody is unhappy.

2017 Preview: The National League West

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the National League West.

The Giants had the best record in all of baseball at the All-Star Break and the Dodgers lost the best pitcher in the world in Clayton Kershaw for a big chunk of the season. Yet, somehow, L.A. won the NL West by four games. The biggest culprit was the Giants’ suspect bullpen, which they put some real money toward fixing this winter. Is it enough? Or is a a Dodgers team with a healthy Kershaw just too talented for San Francisco to handle?

Below them is an intriguing Rockies team, though probably not a truly good Rockies team. The Dbacks have a lot of assorted talent but are nonetheless in reshuffle mode following a miserable 2016 campaign. The Padres, meanwhile, are in full-fledged rebuilding mode, but do possess some of the best minor league talent in the game.

Here are our previews of the 2017 NL West:

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres

2017 Preview: The American League West

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League West

There’s not a lot of separation between the top three teams in this division. Indeed, it would not be a surprise for either the Astros, Rangers or Mariners to end the year on top. Part of that is because none of these contenders are perfect, with all three facing some big challenges in putting together a strong rotation.

Meanwhile, the best baseball player in the universe toils in Anaheim, where he’ll most likely have to content himself to playing spoiler. Up the coast in Oakland . . . um, green is pretty?

Our 2017 AL West Previews:

Houston Astros
Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Oakland Athletics