In American Association Daily, the Minor League Sports Report’s Robert Pannier discusses the seven new rule changes that Major League Baseball has asked the Atlantic League to implement for the 2019 season.
New Rules in the Atlantic League
Two weeks ago, it was reported that Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League had reached a three year agreement to allow the independent baseball league to try out new rules to see how well they would work. In return, MLB promised to supply additional scouting to the Atlantic League to help more players return to affiliate ball.
There was much speculation as to what rule changes would be implemented, but those changes were announced on Friday. Most appear to be geared toward helping the offense in an effort to generate more runs.
There are seven new rules that will be tested. These include:
Reducing Time Between Innings
Currently, there is 2:05 between innings. The Atlantic League will allow 1:45 in an effort to reduce the length of games. The reality is that the longer durations had everything to do with advertising, which isn’t a big issue for independent baseball leagues. However, there are millions of dollars on line per contest at the Major League level, so it will be interesting to see how the networks respond to a decrease in potential revenue.
Speeding up games has been a major issue for the executives at MLB. They have introduced pitch clocks and reductions in mound visits, so this may be the next step to moving games along so that they do not go over two hours and 30 minutes.
Increasing Base Sizes
Currently, bases are 15 inches across. The size will move to 18 inches. It is hoped that this will reduce the number of collisions that occur at bases, and will give more room for base stealers to reach the bag without being tagged. It also moves runners three inches closer to the next base on sacrifice flies. How that impacts plays at the plate will be interesting to see.
Trackman for Balls and Strikes
This is a technology that seemed inevitable. The networks have been using this technology for a decade and have been critiquing umpires as a result. This should make a more uniform strike zone which should eliminate a lot of the complaints by both players and umpires. It should definitely reduce the number of player ejections.
Relievers Facing Minimum of Three Batters
Of all the rules that are being implemented, this may have the most dramatic impact on the game. Not only will this reduce the number of pitching moves, a move that should reduce the time of games, but it will drastically change the way that managers scheme their game plan.
Many teams are carrying 13 pitchers on their roster specifically with the idea of using a left-handed or right-handed specialist in each game. Those specialists often see no more than one batter, but they will now be forced to face at least three. That may mean that some pitchers may find themselves out of a job because they are unable to get out an opposite hitting batter. It will mean that managers will no longer be able to make three or four pitching changes in the same inning. This will seriously be a game changer.
No Mound Visits without Changing Pitcher
This will be an interesting dynamic as well. Frequently, managers will come to the mound drawing in the infielders and the catcher to have a discussion about how to face the next batter. This will no longer be allowed.
This will also make catchers a more invaluable part of the defense. Not only will they need to call balls and strikes and block pitches in the dirt, but they will likely have to relay game plans and defensive strategies during every at bat.
Defensive Shifts Ending
One of the most prevalent defensive strategies seen over the last decade has been the shift. Left-handed pull hitters have frequently faced three infielders on the right side of the diamond, but that will no longer be the case. The new rule will outlaw the shifts, demanding that a minimum of two infielders be on each side of second base, otherwise the pitch will be called a ball.
You can count on some rather interesting arguments in games when a shortstop or second baseman is playing almost right up the middle. Was the shortstop far enough to the left of second base to be considered on the left side of the bag? Umpires may need a protractor to make rulings on these calls.
Pitching Mound Moves Back
The pitcher’s mound will move back two additional feet. Currently, pitching mounds are 60 feet-6 inches from home plate, but with a larger number of hurlers hitting 100 or more on the radar gun, there are those who believe that pitchers have way too much of an advantage because of the speed.
However, this is not the area where the game will be affected the most. With the pitcher two feet further away from home plate, this should open the door for those who are exceptional bunters. Most bunt plays are bang-bang as it is, but now a batter will have an additional half a second, which could add two or three additional hits to every game. It will also open up the suicide squeeze play.
While most of these rules will have little impact on the performance of a player trying to get back to affiliate ball, pitchers have to be concerned about how this will affect their careers. Is a Major League organization going to sign a player who has been pitching two feet further away from the plate for three months? That’s going to be an interesting dynamic which could force organizations to look toward other independent leagues to find options, hurting the chances of an Atlantic League hurler
These are some pretty dramatic changes we will see in 2019 in the Atlantic League. Lord only knows what 2020 will bring.
By Robert Pannier