MLB: Changes Coming to Strike Zone and Intentional Walk, But Should They?
Change is in the air, but is it good change? Are the proposed changed by MLB the best thing for the American Pastime?
Major League Baseball made an official proposal to the players’ union in regard to two significant changes. In an effort to improve the pace of game and increase offensive production, their proposal raises the strike zone and changes the intentional walk rule. With hopes of implementing these rules during Spring Training, rumors of these changes leave fans wondering, “Is this necessary?”
In an age where pitch count is becoming increasingly important, their proposal eliminates the intentional walk’s unnecessary pitches. Instead, all pitchers would do is signal to the umpire and the batter immediately heads to first base. This change is all in an effort, publicly supported by Commissioner Rob Manfred, to improve the pace of the game.
However, in reality, how much time would this change really save? While it would shave upwards of a minute off the clock, intentional walks have decreased in recent years. Last season, major league pitchers issued only 932 intentional walks, which comes out to one every 46 1/3 innings.
Their thinking is that changing the intentional walk instills a mindset of speeding up the game. Despite the minuscule amount of time being saved by this rule, fans and ballplayers are well aware of the needlessness of tossing four wasted pitches. Their belief is that without these wasted minutes, marathon ballgames will begin to feel shorter.
Honey, I Shrunk the Strike Zone
When it comes to the strike zone, that presents a much bigger issue. Since 1996, the bottom of the strike zone lined up with “the hollow beneath the kneecap.” However, MLB is calling to raise the strike zone to the top of the hitter’s knee. In effect, shrinking the strike zone by roughly two inches.
In their defense, the strike zone has gradually grown to well below the hitter’s knees over recent years. Consequently, the scale of balance between pitching and hitting has drastically leaned in favor of the pitchers. It is this phenomenon that adequately supports MLB’s proposed change.
Furthermore, the purpose of their redefined strike zone is to increase offensive production. By doing so, it forces pitchers to come in and puts more balls in play. That means more base runners, defensive emphasis and fewer strikeouts.
Although the major leagues saw a rise in offense in 2016, baseball is still in the midst of a low-scoring trend. While fans might notice the changes to the intentional walk, they are sure to notice their superstar pitchers becoming uncharacteristically vulnerable. Similar negative effects seen with the enlarged strike zone from the 1960s can occur with a shrunken strike zone. Only this time, it’s the pitchers who suffer
Time Will Tell
Any changes must be approved by the Major League Baseball Players Association. If an agreement is met, the MLBPA insists they begin during Spring Training to allow players to accustom themselves to the changes.
With more information bound to surface by Opening Day, the chances of changing the intentional walk seems more likely than the strike zone alterations. When looked at critically, changing the strike zone only helps the hitters and hurts the pitchers. MLB believes that offense and excitement are synonymous. In reality, today’s baseball values the dominance of a starting pitcher and they are equally as entertaining as the game’s best hitters.
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In regard to the intentional walk, clearly there are not enough of them to warrant this change. While it does not do much damage to eliminate the four-pitch system, it also does not accomplish what it is meant to do. Whether we see these changes this season or not, we have not heard the last of efforts to improve the pace of the game.