BOSTON — Major League Baseball could see more dramatic rule changes as early as next season.
The league’s competition committee agreed at owners meetings this week to raise the bottom of the strike zone to the top of the hitter’s knees and to allow pitchers to issue automatic intentional walks without throwing a pitch, sources told ESPN’s Jayson Stark.
The changes, which still would have to be approved by baseball’s playing rules committee, could go into effect as soon as 2017.
Both rule changes could help speed up the game. According to Stark, hitters have grown increasingly frustrated with inconsistent low strike calls — the current edge of the strike zone is “the hollow below the kneecap” — and raising that line could generate fewer strikeouts and more balls put in play.
Not everyone is on board with the potential rule change, of course. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon believes the new strike zone could just lead to more walks and actually slow the game down.
“If you’re going to shorten the strike zone, it can be counterproductive,” Maddon told ESPN.com. “If a guy is pitching down below that and we’re just taking them, you’re going to get less action. It’s one of those things that you have to put it in play to answer the question.”
As for the intentional walk rule, which would allow a team to send a batter to first base with a simple signal to the home plate umpire, baseball purists could argue it’s an unnecessary shortcut that simulates a play that isn’t necessarily automatic.
But if that means quicker games, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell is on board.
“Personally, I’m in favor of that one,” Farrell said Saturday. “If pace of game is the goal here, you may be looking to cut off a few seconds along the way. Just sending a guy to first base, I don’t think that has a major impact on the game.”
Neither rule is official yet, and their impact on the game could vary. But at the very least, their proposal shows MLB is all ears when it comes to streamlining its product.
Thumbnail photo via Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports Images