Major League Baseball believes that they have a problem on their hands with where the game has been heading for years now: Pitchers are simply too good at missing bats. With strikeouts on the rise over the last decade plus, the game has reached a tipping point where there simply isn’t enough contact being made and with less contact, and more home runs on contact than ever, there’s so much less “action” than ever before. That has turned away more than a few fans and Major League Baseball is hoping to fix that.
On solution they’ve tried at the big league level was to change the baseball this season. If you haven’t been following along – we already know that they screwed that up. They didn’t actually test the ball in the field – they simply plugged in numbers on a computer with the assumption that the numbers were correct and those numbers spit out data that said “this” would happen. Problem was the numbers they input weren’t correct. What we’ve seen is that exit velocity is up. While fly balls are indeed traveling slightly less, line drives are traveling further. Oh, and the baseball changes have also led to an increase in spin rate for pitchers – and as we know, the higher the spin rate, the more likely a hitter is to not make contact with a pitch. It’s been a disaster.
The Washington Post’s Jacob Bogage and Chelsea James reported this morning that Major League Baseball is going to move the mound back as an experiment in the Atlantic League this summer. The first half of the season will be at the normal 60′ 6″ from home plate, but in the second half that will change to 61′ 6″.
This is an idea that I’ve seen many support – even some in the game. Mark me on the other side of this. If the idea is to create more action on the field by cutting down on strikeouts and having more contact, it’s a tough sell to me. Pitches will now move more than they do now. Gravity and spin over another foot is going to cause more break, and more “sink” on every single pitch thrown. The velocity likely decreases slightly with this move, which could help a little bit, but without seeing it in action that feels like it’s not going to be enough (we’re talking about maybe 0.5 MPH, if that, in velocity dropping off over the distance change) to counteract the difference in movement – especially with offspeed stuff, which is thrown today more than ever (fastballs were thrown 61% of the time across MLB in 2004. Today it’s at 50%.).
With a move in the mound, pitchers are going to have to train themselves to do things that are different than they’ve done for their entire lives. Knowing where your pitch goes at 60′ 6″ is something you’ve been doing since you are 12-13-14 years old. Now that same pitch is going to wind up somewhere else. Expect walks to be up because of this – which is not what MLB wants to happen.
As a former pitcher, the part that worries me more is injuries. Again, this is the distance guys have trained to throw at since they were in middle school. Now the slider you throw that lands at the bottom of the zone, thrown from 61′ 6″ lands on top of the plate. If you want that pitch to land at the bottom of the zone, you’ve got to throw it harder and place more stress on your arm.
Perhaps this is mostly incorrect and I’m not giving pitchers enough credit here. These guys are pretty athletic (duh). But it just seems like an off-the-cuff idea that they decided to go with without really thinking it out and what the issues that could be there as a result would be. Still, I guess it’s something worth experimenting with. You do have to feel bad for the guys that have to make the adjustment, though – who are trying to get back into affiliated baseball and now have to deal with stuff like this.
Another rule that is being used in the Atlantic League this year is the designated hitter “double hook” rule. As we all know, the American League has a designated hitter and the National League does not. For some stupid reason they just can’t give the National League the designated hitter – something the American League has had for 50 literal seasons now. For the entire Atlantic League season the designated hitter will exist for the starting pitchers spot in the lineup, but once the starting pitcher is removed from the game, the team must either send the relievers to the plate to hit for themselves or send a pinch hitter up to the plate.
If we assume that this new DH rule is aimed at the National League, rather than the American League, then we’ve got another issue at hand: American League teams can continue to use an “opener” if they want to. National League teams technically could, but they won’t because it means they are going to lose the benefit of the DH after the 1st or 2nd inning. That’s not something that the American League needs to worry about.
Rules changes for trying to improve the game, or to try and improve the likeability of the game from a fan perspective happens in all sports. How defenses can be played in the NBA has changed multiple times in my lifetime. The NFL has changed defensive rules and we’ve seen an explosion in offense over the last 15 years because of it. There’s nothing wrong with trying to change the rules. These rules just don’t seem to be thought out very well at all in this specific writers opinion. Your mileage may vary.