MLB Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred said base­ball is open to mak­ing changes to its rules.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

MI­AMI — With home runs, strike­outs and game times at record lev­els, Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred said base­ball is open to mak­ing changes in the sport’s rules.

Ma­jor League Base­ball pro­posed sev­eral ini­tia­tives last off­sea­son, in­clud­ing a 20 - s e cond pitch clock, a limit of one mound trip by a catcher per pitcher each in­ning and rais­ing the bot­tom of the strike zone slightly to its pre-1996 level. The only change the union agreed to was to al­low in­ten­tional walks to be sig­naled with­out throw­ing pitches.

“There have been dra­matic changes in the game, the way the game’s taught, the way the game is played at the big league level,” Man­fred said Tues­day dur­ing a meet­ing with the Base­ball Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica. “There is a dra­mat­i­cally in­creased tol­er­ance for strike­outs by of­fen­sive play­ers. There’s much, much more em­pha­sis on the home run as the prin­ci­pal of­fen­sive tool in the game. There’s a dra­matic in­crease in the use of re­lief pitch­ers, even to the point of kind of a ro­tat­ing bot­tom of the ros­ter be­tween Class AAA and who’s in the big leagues.”

The per­cent­age of plate ap­pear­ances re­sult­ing in home runs peaked at 2.99 per­cent in 2000, the height of the Steroids Era, ac­cord­ing to data compiled by the com­mis­sioner’s of­fice. Af­ter sink­ing to 2.28 per­cent in 2014, it rose to 2.67 per­cent the fol­low­ing year, 3.04 per­cent last sea­son and 3.30 per­cent this year.

The per­cent­age of plate ap­pear­ances re­sult­ing in strike­outs has in­creased for 12 con­sec­u­tive years, from 16.4 per­cent in 1999 to 21.6 per­cent this sea­son.

“Fans like home runs, it seems, and fans like strike­outs, it seems, and we have a lot of both,” play­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion head Tony Clark said.

Man­fred agreed, but only if the strike­outs are by a dom­i­nant pitcher, such as a Clay­ton Ker­shaw.

“I think where it gets trou­bling from a fan per­spec­tive is tons and tons of strike­outs, no ac­tion, lots of pitch­ing changes,” Man­fred said.

The av­er­age ra­tio of re­lief pitch­ers to starters per game has climbed from 2.01 in 1990 to 3.15 last sea­son. It stands at 3.10 this year at the All-Star break but rises each sea­son af­ter ac­tive ros­ters ex­pand from 25 to 40 on Sept. 1.

“Other sports have been more ag­gres­sive about man­ag­ing what’s go­ing on on the field in terms of what their game looks like than we have been, and I’m cer­tainly open to the idea that we should take a more ag­gres­sive pos­ture,” Man­fred said.

MLB is con­cerned about the in­creas­ing length of games. Nine-in­ning games have av­er­aged 3 hours, 5 min­utes this sea­son, up from an even 3 hours last year and 2:56 in 2015.

“We are hav­ing di­a­logue with Ma­jor League Base­ball and we will con­tinue to have di­a­logue with Ma­jor League Base­ball,” Clark said. “We ex­pect those con­ver­sa­tions to pick up here in the sec­ond half of the sea­son.”

MLB has the right to im­pose for 2018 the pro­pos­als made last off­sea­son that were not ac­cepted. That, how­ever, would be a last re­sort.

“I would much rather have agree­ment than pro­ceed uni­lat­er­ally,” Man­fred said. “That is par­tic­u­larly true when it comes to changes that af­fect the play of the game on the field be­cause only the play­ers are in be­tween those lines, not any of us.”

Man­fred said it hired an ex­pert to au­dit the peo­ple who have tested base­balls and found no ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, but said MLB is con­sid­er­ing stricter spec­i­fi­ca­tions for the man­u­fac­tur­ing process.

“One thing that we’re think­ing about is bats,” he said. “We’ve kind of taken for granted that bats aren’t different.”

On other top­ics:

■ MLB could soon award mul­ti­ple All-Star Games to host cities. Next year’s game will be at Washington and the 2019 game will be in Cleve­land. The Los Angeles Dodgers (who last hosted in 1980) and Chicago Cubs (1990) hope to get All-Star Games. “I’ll prob­a­bly do three at once,” Man­fred said.

■ No change will be made this sea­son in the In­di­ans’ use of the con­tro­ver­sial Chief Wa­hoo logo.

■ MLB ex­pects its ef­forts will cause a re­bound in the num­ber of African-Amer­i­can play­ers, just 7.7 per­cent on open­ing-day ros­ters this year, down from 18 per­cent in 1991, ac­cord­ing to The In­sti­tute for Diver­sity and Ethics in Sport at the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Florida. “I think the draft re­sults sug­gest that we have made a dif­fer­ence and I’m very op­ti­mistic you will see an in­crease in the num­ber of African-Amer­i­can play­ers at the big-league level,” Man­fred said.

■ MLB is con­cerned teams used the new 10-day dis­abled list, down from 15 days, around the four-day All-Star break to ma­nip­u­late ros­ters. “I don’t like some of the ac­tiv­ity that’s gone on in terms of the use of the 10-day DL and we’re hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions about that in­ter­nally,” Man­fred said.

■ MLB is track­ing New Jer­sey’s ap­peal of the fed­eral ban on sports gam­bling, a case that has been ac­cepted by the U.S. Supreme Court. “If there’s go­ing to be a change in the reg­u­la­tory struc­ture with re­spects to sports gam­bling, we needed to be in a po­si­tion to mean­ing­fully en­gage and shape, try to shape what the new reg­u­la­tory scheme looks like,” Man­fred said. “We’re in the process of talk­ing to our own­ers and fig­ur­ing out where we want to be in the event that there is in fact a sig­nif­i­cant change com­ing.” ■ Man­fred would like a uni­form post­ing sys­tem for in­ter­na­tional pro­fes­sion­als that cov­ers play­ers from clubs in Ja­pan, South Korea, Cuba and other na­tions. He pre­dicted sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­est if Sho­hei Otani, a 23-year-old pitcher and out­fielder with the Nip­pon Ham Fight­ers of Ja­pan’s Pa­cific League, be­comes avail­able.


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