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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.

 

Astros block Detroit Free Press from clubhouse at Justin Verlander’s request

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Last night a BBWAA-credentialed reporter from the Detroit Free Press was barred from the Houston Astros’ clubhouse by team security following the Tigers win over the Astros. The reporter — who was almost certainly Anthony Fenech, who covers the Tigers — was kept out at the request of Astros starter Justin Verlander. Here’s the scene as described by the Free Press. The article contains a photo, taken by Fenech, of the three Astros officials who blocked the door to prevent him access:

At 9:35 p.m., the Astros opened their clubhouse to credentialed media in coordination with MLB rules. As other media members entered the clubhouse, the Free Press reporter with a valid BBWAA-issued credential was blocked from entering by three Astros security officials . . . The reporter contacted Mike Teevan, MLB vice president of communications, who said he would immediately reach out to Dias regarding the issue. Dias eventually gave the reporter access to the clubhouse at 9:41 p.m., after Verlander’s media session had ended . . . Once inside, the reporter approached Verlander, who said: “I’m not answering your questions.” When asked to comment on Wednesday’s loss, Verlander walked away.

That after-the-fact access for the reporter came only after he called Major League Baseball who, in turn, called Astros officials, presumably, to tell them that they cannot bar credentialed media.

It’s unclear at the moment what the beef is between Verlander and either the Free Press or the reporter. For what it’s worth, I follow Fenech and, while he’s a bit more witty and, occasionally, cutting than your average beat reporter, he’s self-effacing and doesn’t do cheap shots. Though he talks often about former Tigers and has made a point to highlight Verlander’s post-Tigers career whenever relevant, to my knowledge he hasn’t said or done anything specific to tweak Verlander in the past.

I will note, though, that last night, about eight minutes before Fenech was barred access, the Free Press Twitter account sent this tongue-in-cheek tweet out. It’s unclear if he or someone else at the paper wrote it:

Maybe that pissed off Verlander, who is known to be active on social media and is usually pretty aware of what’s being said about him. Hard to say.

What’s easy to say, though, is that no matter what has hurt Verlander’s fragile ego, the Astros barring the reporter from the clubhouse is in blatant violation of the agreement between Major League Baseball and the Baseball Writers Association of America, which ensures access for credentialed reporters. Verlander doesn’t have to talk to the guy — he doesn’t have to talk to anyone he doesn’t want to talk to — but the team honoring Verlander’s wishes to bar access is totally unacceptable and, frankly, about as low-rent as it gets from a media relations perspective.

We’ll probably hear more about this later today.