Over the last couple of years, Major League Baseball has been trying a bunch of different ideas to improve the “pace of action” as commissioner Rob Manfred calls it, and these are the two latest ideas.
Is this the year baseball raises the strike zone? Is it the year the sport finally does away with the practice of lobbing four balls toward home plate to issue an intentional walk? Major League Baseball has made formal proposals to the players’ union to usher in both of those changes, sources told ESPN.com.
MLB’s proposal would raise the lower part of the strike zone to the top of the hitter’s knees. Since 1996, the bottom of the zone has been defined as “the hollow beneath the kneecap.” But data shows that umpires have been increasingly calling strikes on so many pitches below the knees that, if umpires enforce the redefined strike zone, it would effectively raise the zone by an estimated 2 inches.
I think that the elimination of the act of throwing four balls outside of the strike zone in order to complete an intentional walk will grab all the headlines, but the strike zone change is the alteration that will have the greater impact. As the report states, intentional walks are in decline overall. Last year, we saw an average of one intentional walk per 5.2 games, which means that eliminating them altogether would be really insignificant in the grand scheme of things as far as pace of play goes.
So, the thing about this whole pace of play thing, which I wrote about on Friday, is that it’s not so much about the average time of games. You’re never gonna be able to implement enough changes to drastically reduce the average time of games in order to attract a new and younger audience. What you can do, though, is increase the amount of action that occurs during these games within that window of time that the games are lasting, and that’s what this strike zone adjustment can do.
Bringing the strike zone up will increase the percentage of balls that are put in play, which will obviously increase the action in the games. It makes a ton of sense from MLB’s perspective, but this is a rule change that the players association would have to approve, so they might run into some obstacles there. If you’re a pitcher, you don’t necessarily want to willingly accept changes that could cost you millions of dollars in the future. Surely hitters won’t mind taking away the low strike call, forcing pitchers to elevate their pitches more.
As a fan, I think it’s a good change. Actually, I think it’s a necessary change. I don’t care about the length of the games — it’s more so the down time within the games. I’m a Team Pitch Clock guy all the way. I think that’s one of the bigger problems with the whole lack of action is how long pitchers take in between pitches, more so than the batters taking too much time to get in the box. When they made that rule about keeping batters in the batter’s box a couple of years ago, I thought they were barking up the wrong tree, and that it was the pitchers who they needed to keep on task. Gimme a pitch clock, this new strike zone adjustment, and see what happens. I bet you’ll like the result.