FEBRUARY 2022 – Peter Hornberger, New City, NY
We love baseball! The League has been testing ways to make the game more exciting…Batters could steal first base? Larger, easier-to-reach bases? Robot umpires? …What else?!
Let us know what you think: Should they make any changes to America’s pastime? Why, why not? If so, what tweaks do you recommend? Explain them, and show us your creativity and reasoning. Good luck!
Congratulations to Peter Hornberger of New City, NY, our February Winner!
A Public Health Worker, Peter was a ballplayer in his teens, and these days he plays catch with one of his Nokonas!
The following are Proposed Changes that would be relatively easy to implement, would not drastically change the game, but would incentivize parts of the game that are lacking/ inconsistent, such as more offense in general, more balls in play, and more aggressive baserunning.
Change(s) to the Lineup
• Utilize a designated hitter (DH) for both leagues.
o Universal DH will produce more offense, allow teams to rest players, extend player careers in both leagues.
o Pitchers will be less likely to injure themselves batting or running the bases.
o In general, it makes sense for a sport with two leagues to have the same sets of rules in both leagues.
o Pitchers who are good hitters will still have an opportunity (albeit rarely) to function as hitters from time to time. But fans will not be forced to watch pitchers “hit,” every 9 at bats.
Changes regarding Field of Play
• No more Extreme Shifts.
o Infielders should be required to stand two players on either side of second base with both feet on dirt prior to pitch. No extreme defensive shifts, no 4-man outfield, no corner infielders positioned in the grass to stop the bunt.
o Fielders will still be able to adjust their position for defensive strategy, but the extreme defensive adjustments (largely based on analytics) will no longer be possible.
o This will restore some competitive balance in favor of offense, and allow for more variability in fielding, which is a factor in how entertaining the game is (or is not).
• Install larger bases designed to make sliding into bag easier and safer.
o This would decrease in incidence of outs created by a baserunner popping off the base (after a slide) just long enough to be tagged out. It will incentivize aggressive baserunning.
o At first base, larger bases will leave more room for the first baseman and the runner, likely resulting in less injury at the base. Also, it is likely to result in more variability in plays to first base since runners will have slightly more base to work with.
• Modify the rule for Ground Rule Doubles.
o This rule led to some confusion in the recent Red Sox – Rays series. In that case, the Red Sox received a significant advantage from their fielder accidentally deflecting the ball out of play.
o To remove this advantage going forward: If a fielder intentionally throws or deflects a ball out of play, it should be an automatic triple for the batter and all base runners gain 3 bases. If a fielder accidentally throws/deflects a ball out of play OR if the ball deflects out of play without being touched by a defender, all runners including the batter should get two bases from where they were on the basepaths when the ball left play.
Changes Concerning Pitching /Strike Zone
• Shrink the strike zone, especially low and high strikes.
o The high strike zone makes hitting high fastballs nearly impossible, and the low strike zone makes hitting low breaking pitches nearly impossible (especially for tall players like Aaron Judge).
o The inside and outside parts of the strike zone are more variable in my view and should be left alone, as batters can adjust their stance/position to compensate for these factors. It is nearly impossible, however, for batters to make adjustments for pitch height.
• Pitchers should need to take their foot off the rubber prior to throwing to a base, regardless of the throwing arm of the pitcher or the base they are throwing to.
o I have never understood why lefty pitchers were allowed to have such a significant advantage over righty pitchers regarding holding runners on first base. This will eliminate that advantage.
o Additionally, the concept of the Balk seems different depending on the pitcher’s arm and the base he is throwing to, which is confusing. The universal requirement for pitchers to take their foot off the rubber will eliminate this confusion and likely make balk calls more consistent.
o Base stealing will gain additional value as it will be harder for some pitchers to hold runners on base.
• Harsher Punishments for Pitchers who endanger the batter’s health through the Hit by Pitch (HBP), regardless of the pitcher’s perceived intentions.
o If the umpire suspects that a pitcher has hit or tried to hit a batter on purpose, the pitcher must be immediately ejected. No more warnings for both teams.
o If a batter is hit in the head by a pitch, the pitcher should be automatically ejected. This should be regardless of whether the umpire thinks the pitch was thrown there intentionally. Pitchers should not be permitted to throw anything that might contact a batter’s head. Poor control is no excuse and should be disincentivized.
§ An example of this type of rule in another sport is in professional Rugby Union. In Rugby Union, if a tackler makes direct contact to the head of a ballcarrier, he is automatically given a red card (ejected from the game), even if the contact looks unintentional.
o Cracking down on dangerous HBP will increase player safety and put pressure on pitchers to hit their targets effectively. Extra pressure on pitchers to avoid hitting players may give an additional advantage to batters and lead to more offense.
The following are Proposed Changes that would be more difficult to implement and would constitute significant alterations to the game and the structure of Major league Baseball. Nevertheless, these proposals would be aimed at improving the quality of play, competitiveness, and make the game more likely to produce offense.
• Expanded playoffs to reduce tanking.
o The current playoff structure produces a significant disincentive for teams outside the post-season bubble, to try to win.
o One expanded playoff structure would be a 6-team postseason with 3 wild card spots. The bottom 4 teams would play one round of a best of 3 series, and the top two teams would get a bye for the first round and home field advantage in the second round. The second round would be a best of 5, and the CS would be a best of 7.
§ This proposal is actually less radical and less complicated than the one proposed by MLB in fall of 2021.
Pitching/ Strike Zone
• Limit the number of pitchers that can be used in a game.
o The average number of pitchers used in a game by a team is now more than 4. This is bolstered by the doctrine that a starting pitcher is most vulnerable to hitters when he faces them for a third time. Managers therefore are under lots of pressure to remove starters much earlier in games. This means that at critical period of offensive vulnerability (for the starter) is being nullified by the injection of fresh arms from the bullpen. The result is less offense, more strikeouts, and numerous pitching changes late in games.
o Consider a version of a Hook rule to disincentivize removing pitchers early in a game. A Hook rule ties the teams use of a DH to the number of pitchers used in the game. A team can forfeit its use of the DH for the remainder of the game provided it goes over the pitcher limit. Some examples:
§ Double Hook Rule: when the teams starter comes out of the game, the incoming pitcher (second pitcher) must bat in the DH’s position. The team loses their DH for the remainder of the game.
§ Triple Hook Rule: when the teams third pitcher comes in, lose DH.
§ Modified Hook Rule: teams are allowed two pitchers for the first 6 innings of play, three pitchers for the first 8 innings of play. If they exceed this at any stage, they lose the DH.
• Institute Robot Umps to combat bad ball/strike calls and the deceptive skill of pitch-framing.
o The reasoning for this is obvious, as bad/inconsistent ball and strike calls have always been a problem in the game. This adds to confusion for both hitters and pitchers, and frustration for fans.
o Updated technology is now able to show how pitch framing, the ability of the catcher to make a pitch look (to the umpire) like a strike is decisive in winning games. This exposes a clear faulty perception on the part of home plate umpires and means that some teams can end up winning games, in part, because their catcher was better at deceiving the umpire than the opposing teams’ catcher. A pitch should either be a strike or ball. That should not change based on the movements of the catcher. A second problem is inconsistency from one umpire to the next.
o Robot umps will standardize strike calling throughout the league and mean that only strikes will be called, regardless of the talents of the catcher.