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MLB will move pitching rubber back two feet in Atlantic League experiment

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Last month we learned that Major League Baseball had entered into an agreement with the Atlantic League in which the former will use the latter as a lab to test new rules, equipment and technology. Today Major League Baseball issued a press release outlining what, in fact, those experiments will be.

Specifically:

  • The mound will be moved back two feet to 62’6″;
  • Larger bases will be used (18″ instead of 15″);
  • Defensive shifts will be banned;
  • A radar-enabled strike zone will be employed (robot umps!);
  • Time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45
  • Three batter minimum for pitchers entering a game; and
  • There will be no mound visits unless a pitcher is removed from the game or for medical issues.

Morgan Sword, MLB’s Senior Vice President, League Economics & Operations said, “This first group of experimental changes is designed to create more balls in play, defensive action, baserunning, and improve player safety.”

I can see the use of at least exploring a three batter minimum for pitchers. I’m curious about an automated strike zone, though I am skeptical as to its accuracy at present. Worth exploring at least. I am not sure who is calling for larger bases and what that would accomplish, but I suppose it could cut down on injuries that occur around the bases. Mound visits are usually pointless, time-killing exercises so I’m fine with those being gone.

As I’ve argued many times, limiting defensive shifts seems silly to me. Shifts take away seeing-eye singles but they do not deprive batters of clean singles, extra base hits or homers. Do they frustrate hitters? Yeah, but so does everything else this side of batting practice fastballs, and I think their whining about it is overstated. Hit the ball the other way and they’ll stop shifting on you.

I am very much opposed to a moved back pitchers mound, especially one moved back a full two feet. While one might argue that today’s high-velocity pitchers need a bit of a handicap, they will, without question, try to compensate for the decreased ball-over-the-plate effective velocity by attempting to overthrow. It may likewise lead to significant mechanics changes to get the breaking balls to break, cut and slide the way they like. Pitchers are going to hurt themselves adjusting to this, I suspect, and in my mind that’s not worth the couple of upticks in opposing batting average this is aimed at addressing. If you want to cut down on strikeouts and/or increase offense, alter the strike zone to take away the 97 m.p.h. fastball at the shins that no one can do a thing with anyway and call it a ball, forcing pitchers to work up, inside and outside more. I assure you, you’ll see more offense then.

All of which is to say, some of this sounds fine, some of this sounds rather pointless, and the mound thing sounds dangerous. But I suppose Rob Manfred is trying. With people saying “Rob Manfred is trying” being what he’s trying for mostly, it seems.

 

Report: Gerrit Cole has seven-year, $245 million offer from Yankees

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Bob Klapisch of The New York Times reports that free agent starter Gerrit Cole has a seven-year, $245 million contract offer on the table from the Yankees. As Klapisch also notes, the deal would set a record for total value and average annual value for a pitcher, besting Zack Greinke‘s $34.4 million AAV and David Price‘s $217 million total.

While it is possible that Cole signs before the end of the Winter Meetings on Thursday, clients of Scott Boras have tended to sign later in the offseason, so this may be a protracted process with today’s report as a jumping-off point. Both the Yankees’ and Angels’ front offices have received clearance from ownership to break the bank to sign Cole.

Cole, 29, could not have timed having a career year any better. During the regular season, he led all of baseball with 326 strikeouts and led the American League with a 2.50 ERA while also posting a 20-5 record and walking only 48 batters across 212 1/3 innings. He performed brilliantly in the playoffs as well, holding the opposition to seven runs on 21 hits and 11 walks with 47 strikeouts over 36 2/3 innings of work as the Astros narrowly missed out on winning another championship.

Cole is entering his age-29 season, so a deal of at least seven years would take him well into his mid-30’s. Teams, especially lately, have been hesitant to commit to pitchers, but as the Nationals showed with Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, sometimes it leads to a championship.

For what it’s worth, Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports says the Yankees haven’t made a formal offer to Cole yet, though the club plans to make one this week. During this time of year, both sides — front office personnel and player agents — leak details to the press to help establish leverage. What we can generally take from this is that the Yankees are hot for Cole and he’s going to get a record-setting contract from some team, even if it’s not the Yankees.