MLB strike zone changes are nearly in place for the 2017 season. The MLB competition committee met about the current strike zone and has recommended changes to go in front of the owners. A report from ESPN.com states that the most noticeable change will be to the lower part of the strike zone. Currently, the strike zone begins at the hollow beneath the kneecap, but a new proposal would change the language to state that it would begin at the top of the hitter’s knees.
There has been a lot of debate about MLB strike zone changes in recent seasons, especially with the tools that television networks have to display pitch location. By instituting this particular change, the intent is to not only give the hitters a static strike zone to work with, but to also make it easier on the home plate umpires. New York Mets second baseman Neil Walker made a series of comments about the proposed changes, giving a favorable viewpoint for why this might help Major League Baseball.
“I think if you ask hitters, most of the complaints they would have would be about low strikes. They’re probably the hardest to call for umpires, and catchers have gotten so good at presenting them. As a hitter, when you see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand and it’s going to be down, you usually think about taking it, because it’s harder to do damage with that pitch. Us as hitters, we want that ball up, thigh or mid-thigh.”
The other proposed MLB rule change will directly affect how intentional walks are carried out. In the current method that is employed, a pitcher simply tosses four balls toward the side of the plate, where the catcher steps out to receive them. Under the proposed rule change, those pitches won’t even be made. Rather than waste the time needed to make the pitches, the team will only need to indicate that a hitter is going to be intentionally walked. The batter is then immediately sent to first base.
A report from CBS Sports in 2015 discussed how Major League Baseball was doing the right thing by considering changes to the current strike zone. The pace of play and the number of pitches per plate appearance were becoming a problem, as game times had been spiking since the 2010 MLB season. Providing clarity to the strike zone and preventing hitters from stepping out of the batters box between every pitch were ideas that many analysts agreed should be addressed. Now, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has nearly done that.
Though these may seem like small changes to the average baseball fan, clarifying the strike zone and shortening the process for intentional walks could be great for the sport. Rather than umpires having a fluid view of where the lower part of the strike zone begins and ends, everything will be even further standardized. This removes some of the judgement that has been required in determining the hollow beneath the kneecap for each batter. In regard to intentional walks, the new proposed policy could shave several minutes off of those at-bats.
By implementing a more defined strike zone, it could help to increase the number of first-pitch swings during at-bats. Not only could that work to cut down on the pitch counts of starting pitchers, but it could also lead to more balls put in play on the first or second pitch. That could certainly help drive the interest and excitement earlier in counts, especially with pitchers forced to pitch to a more specific zone. Fewer walks could also be a consequence of this MLB rule change, but that might not be a bad thing with the pitch count limits most teams use.
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