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Big changes could be on the horizon for baseball. ESPN's Jayson Stark is reporting that a committee at the MLB owners meetings this week (appropriately called the competition committee) approved changes to both the strike zone and the intentional walk. Not small changes, either. The bottom of the strike zone, which right now starts just below a hitter's knees, would be raised to the top of a hitter's knees. And no longer would a pitcher have to throw four pitches to a standing catcher to intentionally walk someone. He would just have to signal that he wanted to issue an intentional walk, and the hitter would be sent to first base without a pitch being thrown.
Both of these changes are meant to improve the pace of play, which has been one of commissioner Rob Manfred's pet projects. Eliminating the four pitches to issue an intentional walk would certainly speed things up, but very few plate appearances actually end in intentional walks that I can't imagine it would have a tremendous effect. The change to the strike zone is different. It's meant to reduce the number of low strikes called by umpires, which have been on the rise, and increase the number of balls in play. If a ball thrown below the knees isn't a strike anymore, then it's a ball.
That would mean more baserunners, since they'll either walk more often or they'll get more balls thrown in the strike zone. That would theoretically increase the amount of action we see in a game, but it definitely wouldn't make it shorter. More baserunners leads to more pitching and more scoring, i.e. a longer game, which was something the commissioner's office cared about not long ago.
Stark quotes both Neil Walker and Joe Maddon as giving their support to the changes, though they both think the change will lead to more walks rather than balls in play (a fair point). Besides them, we don't know how anyone else feels about these proposed changes (especially pitchers), and it may not matter at all. These rule changes don't need to be approved by the MLB Players' Association to take effect. They just need to be approved by baseball's playing rules committee, which is made up of baseball executives and chaired by Mets GM Sandy Alderson.
If they approve the changes, they could take effect next season. Stark's sources say that the changes would be brought to the Players' Association when they negotiate the new collective bargaining agreement this offseason, but that nice gesture would probably go right out the window if the PA decided it didn't want the changes. With this plus the CBA on the horizon, there is potential for high drama and major changes in the offseason.
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