Changes to strike zone, intentional walks could be implemented for 2017

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Over the weekend Jayson Stark of ESPN reported that Major League Baseball’s Competition Committee approved two significant rules changes that could go into effect next year: an altered strike zone and the elimination of the need for a pitcher to actually throw the four pitches now required for an intentional walk.

The strike zone change would be to raise the lower part of the zone to the top of the hitter’s knees. Right now the rule specifies that it extends down to “the hollow beneath the kneecap.” In recent years the zone has, practically speaking, extended even below that, with umpires calling very, very low pitches balls, much to the chagrin of hitters.

The change in the intentional-walk rule would end the practice of requiring the pitcher to actually throw four balls outside the strike zone. Instead, a team could simply tell the ump it wants to issue an intentional walk, and the hitter would be be awarded first base.

The zone change is aimed at reducing the number of strikeouts and putting more offense in games. In the past, however, changes to the zone have led to unexpected results. Small alterations in the 1960s led to first a dramatic increase and then a dramatic decrease in offense. The institution of Pitch f/x review of umpire calls all but eliminated the outside strike many pitchers thrived on in the 80s and 90s and led to great advantages for pitchers who could throw with higher velocity down in the zone. This change may have the theoretic aim at getting the ball up and giving pitchers something to hit, but given how pitchers don’t want to work up, it may simply trade strikeouts for walks, at least in the short term, as pitchers stubbornly but understandably continue to put pitches in places where batters cannot do as much damage, which is down low.

As for the intentional walks: eh, not too big a deal. It’s aimed at speeding up the pace of play, but there aren’t that many free passes given so the time savings will be negligible. Occasionally someone, quite hilariously, throws a wild pitch on an IBB and that will, sadly, be eliminated. So to will the ritual booing of the home crowd when a home batter is intentionally walked. Part of me likes that, in many instances, there is some shame and mild cowardice involved in intentionally walking a batter and it’ll be sad that that element of it is gone, even if it’s not a big deal. I suspect we’ll get used to the new walk rule fairly quickly.

As for implementation, the two changes can’t go into effect unless they are approved by baseball’s playing rules committee, which would meet later in the year. The plan is also being presented to the Player’s Union, but the union does not need to sign off on the changes for them to go into effect next season. Such presentation is something of a courtesy, however, and if the changes are incorporated into the upcoming collective bargaining agreement, they can last beyond next year without further review from the competition committee.

I think the strike zone change is worthy, but I don’t think there are any guarantees it’ll have its intended effect. The walk rule seems sort of pointless but basically harmless. Regardless of how you feel about it, these sort of incremental changes have been a constant feature of baseball over the years, even if we like to pretend that the game is the same as it always has been.

 

Cardinals beat Brewers, both clinch postseason berths

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. LOUIS — Harrison Bader tripled and homered to help the St. Louis Cardinals clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season with a 5-2 win over Milwaukee, and the Brewers also earned a playoff spot Sunday via help on the West Coast moments later.

St. Louis (30-28) will be the fifth seed in the NL and open a three-game wild-card series at San Diego on Wednesday. By winning, the Cardinals avoided having to travel to Detroit for two makeup games Monday. St. Louis finished the regular season with 23 games in 18 days as it made up a slew of postponements caused by a coronavirus outbreak in the clubhouse.

“You had to throw some of the expectations out the window not knowing what to expect after taking those couple weeks off and all those doubleheaders and so many new guys,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was very different, very fulfilling to make the playoffs.”

The Brewers (29-31) locked up the eighth seed and a third consecutive postseason berth after the Padres beat San Francisco 5-4 in a game that ended about 15 minutes after St. Louis’ victory. The Giants finished with an identical record as the Brewers but lost out on a tiebreaker due to an inferior intradivision record.

“It’s fitting for 2020 and everything we went through,” Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. “It felt just as good as past years. This year’s a unique one. There’s so many challenges we had to go through on a daily basis behind the scenes, things you don’t deal with in a normal year.”

Milwaukee will face the top-seeded Dodgers in Los Angeles in a three-game series that also starts Wednesday.

The Brewers haven’t had a winning record at any point this season. Milwaukee and Houston will be the first teams ever to qualify for the playoffs with a losing mark.

“It’s a celebration,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it. There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.”

Cardinals starter Austin Gomber allowed one run, one hit and two walks and struck out three over four innings.

Giovanny Gallegos (2-0), Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes combined to pitch the final five innings. Reyes got his first save.

“We’d have been happy getting in as the eight seed,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’d have been happy being the one seed, but people can say we got in if there was no expanded playoffs so that’s even another feather in this group’s cap.”

Brett Anderson (4-4) surrendered a triple to Bader and a walk to Tyler O'Neill to start the third inning before departing with a blister on his left index finger. Anderson opened the season on the injured list with a blister on the same finger and did not make his debut until Aug. 3.

Freddy Peralta replaced him a day after being activated from the paternity list, and O’Neill promptly stole second. Kolten Wong then hit a line drive off Peralta’s leg that Peralta threw into right field to score Bader and O’Neill.

Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong each added RBI singles to push the St. Louis lead to 4-0.

After Milwaukee scored in the top of the fifth, Bader hit his fifth home run of the season.

“That was a big counterpunch,” Shildt said of Bader. “Got them on their heels again.”

THREE TIMES THE FUN

Yadier Molina grounded into a triple play in the eighth inning when he hit a one hop grounder to Jace Peterson at third base in the eighth inning. It was Milwaukee’s first triple play since Sept. 23, 2016, when Cincinnati’s Joey Votto lined out to first base. Molina was also the last Cardinals player to hit into a triple play when he grounded out to third base at Boston on Aug. 15, 2017.

TRAINING ROOM

Brewers: Counsell said it was too early to prognosticate Anderson’s status after departing with the blister.

Cardinals: St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak announced that RHP Dakota Hudson will have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Monday. Hudson went 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts before leaving his start on Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh with right elbow discomfort after two innings.

UP NEXT

Brewers: The Brewers head to Los Angeles and will likely be without two of their top starters in Anderson and Corbin Burnes, who sustained a left oblique injury on Thursday.

Cardinals: This will be the fourth postseason series between St. Louis and San Diego, who faced each other in 1996, 2005, and 2006 in the Division Series.