Base­ball con­sid­ers changes

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JOE CHRIS­TENSEN Star Tri­bune (Min­neapo­lis)

Twins short­stop Royce Lewis digs in, and we’re ready for the 2028 sea­son. The crowd is buzzing.

First pitch – fast­ball. Just missed the out­side cor­ner of the elec­tronic strike zone. Ball one.

The Yankees are play­ing Lewis to pull. There was a time, years ago, when they could have shifted three in­field­ers to the left of sec­ond base. That was be­fore the rule change.

We’ll fin­ish that story in a minute, as vet­eran Luis Sev­erino works quickly. The pitch clock barely starts, and here’s the 1-0 pitch. Lewis smashes it up the mid­dle, lead­off sin­gle …

Close your eyes, lis­ten to the winds of change and imag­ine the dif­fer­ence be­tween Ma­jor League Base­ball now and how it could look in 10 years.

With games slog­ging along at three hours apiece, strike­outs soaring and bat­ting av­er­ages tum­bling to a 46-year low, the slow-to-change sport is ripe for some sub­tle and not-so-sub­tle tweaks.

“I’ve got peo­ple – you know, guys I play golf with and have lunch with – that are all avid fans,” for­mer Twins pitcher Jim Kaat said. “They just say, ‘We might watch a few in­nings, but we can’t watch a whole game.’ ”

Kaat, an Emmy Award nom­i­nee as an an­a­lyst for MLB Net­work, is among the cho­rus of long­time base­ball peo­ple who love the game but are con­cerned with the cur­rent ver­sion, es­pe­cially the slow-mov­ing pace.

Kaat is one of more than 30 peo­ple the Star Tri­bune re­cently in­ter­viewed across base­ball, in­clud­ing Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred, for in­sight into what changes could be com­ing over the next decade.


Last fall, Man­fred said the tech­nol­ogy wasn’t ready to hand ball-strike calls over to com­put­ers. At the time, the sys­tem MLB used to eval­u­ate um­pires had a re­ported 2-inch mar- gin of er­ror. But this month, Man­fred said the “accuracy and speed” of track­ing pitches “has im­proved dra­mat­i­cally” this sea­son.

“I’ve al­ways said,” Man­fred added, “that when those two ar­eas – accuracy and speed – im­prove to the point where you can say this is bet­ter than a hu­man be­ing would do, there’s an im­por­tant policy ques­tion that is go­ing to have to be dis­cussed.”

MLB al­ready uses Track­Man’s 3D-radar sys­tem to record pitch type, lo­ca­tion, ve­loc­ity and spin rate. Once re­fined, that tech­nol­ogy could de­ter­mine balls and strikes, with the de­ci­sion in­stantly re­layed to the home plate um­pire, who would still have author­ity over the game and call foul tips, catcher’s in­ter­fer­ence and make other rul­ings.

“The um­pires are the best in the world at what they do,” Byrnes said. “But be­cause we have this tech­nol­ogy and in­for­ma­tion avail­able to us, it’s ir­re­spon­si­ble if we don’t use it.”

Jeff Nel­son is in his 20th sea­son as an MLB um­pire and takes pride in his work call­ing balls and strikes. He’s not ready to hand those du­ties over to a com­puter.


The av­er­age nine-in­ning MLB game lasted a record 3 hours, 5 min­utes last sea­son. Own­ers con­tem­plated a pitch clock, but af­ter push­back from the play­ers’ union, Man­fred made other changes, lim­it­ing each team to six mound vis­its and short­en­ing be­tween-in­ning breaks.

So far, the av­er­age time of a nine-in­ning game this sea­son is 2:59.

“There was a lot of re­sis­tance to lim­it­ing mound vis­its,” Man­fred said. “The fact is there was not one sin­gle game that any­body can point to, where the limit on the num­ber of mound vis­its played a sig­nif­i­cant role in what hap­pened in the game.”

Tony Clark, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the play­ers union, cau­tioned against a pat­tern of “see a trend, change the rules.” But Clark said play­ers re­main will­ing to talk about how to move the sport for­ward.

The cur­rent col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment, which ex­pires in De­cem­ber 2021, gives Man­fred author­ity to uni­lat­er­ally im­pose a pitch clock.

Base­ball adopted a 20sec­ond pitch clock for the mi­nor leagues at Class AA and AAA three years ago.


Ac­cord­ing to the web­site FanGraphs, there were 26,705 de­fen­sive shifts in MLB last sea­son, up from 2,350 seven years ear­lier, with a shift de­fined as hav­ing at least three in­field­ers to one side of sec­ond base.

That num­ber will grow again this sea­son, as teams are shift­ing on 17.4 per­cent of all plate ap­pear­ances, up from 12.1 per­cent last year, ac­cord­ing to the web­site Base­bal­lSa­vant.

Morneau said he would in­sert a line be­hind sec­ond base, dic­tat­ing that two in­field­ers stay on each side of the line.

BRIAN CASSELLA Chicago Tri­bune file

Ar­gu­ing over balls and strikes would be a thing of the past if base­ball im­ple­mented elec­tronic strike zone.

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