When Rob Manfred first replaced Bud Selig as commissioner late last month, he said that he was looking into the possibility of eliminating defensive shifts to help boost offense around the game. It was a radical idea and not a very good one, but it appears that MLB is considering something else. And this one actually makes a lot of sense.
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, MLB is considering altering the definition of the strike zone. The belief is that calling the low strike has helped contribute to the drop in offense. Potentially returning the strike zone to the top of the knee could change that:
Concern around baseball about the strike zone filtered down to the MLB’s Playing Rules Committee, which must formally adopt a rules change before it’s implemented. The committee will pay close attention to the size of the strike zone in 2015 with an eye on change as early as 2016 after studies showed it has expanded significantly since 2009, coinciding with a precipitous dip in run scoring. Of particular concern, sources said, is the low strike, a scourge not only because it has stretched beyond the zone’s boundaries but is considered a significantly more difficult pitch to hit.
Runs per game fell to 4.07 in 2014, the lowest mark since 1981 and the 13th fewest since World War II, and studies from The Harball Times’ Jon Roegele and Florida professor Brian Mills pegged the low strike as a significant culprit.
Since 2009, the average size of the called strike zone has jumped from 435 square inches to 475 square inches, according to Roegele’s research. The results: Pitchers are throwing more in the lower part of the zone, and hitters are swinging at an increased rate, knowing the tough-to-drive pitches will be called strikes.
Roegele’s study estimated 31 percent of the offensive drought could be attributed to the strike zone while Mills’ estimated it’s between 24 percent and 41 percent. After seeing a strong correlation among the size of the strike zone, all-time-high strikeout rates and historically low walk rates, members of the committee now are fairly certain the relationship is causative, too, and seem primed to do something about it.
This was always the most simple and logical solution to increasing offense, so it’s encouraging to hear that MLB is at least looking into it. And good on folks like Jon Roegele and Brian Mills for putting the numbers out there for everyone to see. See, analytics aren’t so bad.
It’s worth noting that even if the Playing Rules Committee makes a proposal to change the strike zone, it would have to be approved by the World Umpires Association and MLBPA before going into effect. Some might say that trying to boost offense while also addressing pace-of-play seems counter-intuitive, but both have the goal of making the game more appealing. And there’s nothing wrong with that.