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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.

 

Blue Jays release John Axford

John Axford
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The Blue Jays have released right-handed reliever John Axford from his minor league contract, per an announcement on Saturday. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi speculates that the move could provide an avenue for the club to rework Axford’s contract, but the Blue Jays have yet to confirm or deny the report.

Axford, 35, was dealt a blow on Thursday after getting diagnosed with a stress reaction in the olecranon bone of his right elbow. Elbow soreness dogged the right-hander through much of his time in camp, and although he was scheduled for a follow-up examination later this spring, a definite return date had not been established.

Prior to the diagnosis, Axford was tabbed for a setup role with the team in 2019. He pitched to mixed results in 2018 (thanks in part to a late-season fracture of his right fibula) with a 5.27 ERA, 4.9 BB/9, and 9.8 SO/9 through 54 2/3 innings with the Blue Jays and Dodgers. Now, however, it’s not certain that he’ll return to the mound this season in any capacity.

Axford isn’t the only reliever the Blue Jays have lost to injury lately, either, as right-handers Ryan Tepera and Bud Norris have been sidelined with right elbow inflammation and forearm fatigue, respectively. Per Davidi, the Blue Jays offered Norris a $100,000 retention bonus to prevent him from opting out of the minor league contract he signed in February.