Major League Baseball announced on Friday that it has reached an agreement with the independent Atlantic League wherein the Atlantic League will adopt a series of radical rule changes to serve as an experimentation grounds for MLB. Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper first reported in late February that a wave of changes was coming to the Atlantic League as part of the agreement, specifically highlighting several of the now-official modifications (including Trackman-assisted strike zones and the alteration on the distance between the mound and home plate). Under the agreement, MLB “will analyze the effects of these changes before deciding on potential additional modifications during the 2019 Atlantic League All-Star break and in future seasons.”
The slate of rule changes to be implemented in the Atlantic League are as follows:
- Home plate umpire assisted in calling balls and strikes by a TrackMan radar tracking system.
- No mound visits permitted by players or coaches other than for pitching changes or medical issues.
- Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, or reach the end of an inning before they exit the game, unless the pitcher becomes injured.
- Increase the size of 1st, 2nd and 3rd base from 15 inches square to 18 inches square.
- Require two infielders to be on each side of second base when a pitch is released (if not, the ball is dead and the umpire shall call a ball).
- Time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45.
- Distance from pitching rubber to home plate extended 24 inches, in the second half of the season only; with no change to mound height or shape.
In the past, MLB has experimented with various rule changes at the minor league level, most recently implementing a pitch clock in the minors back in 2015. (That change, which gives a pitcher 20 seconds to at least come set to deliver his pitch, is currently being tested during Spring Training.) However, given the more radical nature of these changes, MLB has now sought an independent setting in order to analyze the benefits and potential pitfalls of these scenarios.
Alterations to the pitching mound, robotic/computerized calling of balls and strikes and the potential banning of aggressive defensive shifts have all been among the talking points during commissioner Rob Manfred’s ongoing pace-of-play initiatives since being named Bud Selig’s successor. While today’s announcement certainly doesn’t suggest that any of these changes are on the cusp of being introduced at the MLB level, the experiment and analysis nonetheless foreshadow what feels like an inevitable wave of changes at some point in the future. Baseball purists have persistently bristled at the continual changes that have been both implemented and suggested by Manfred. The commissioner, in turn, has repeatedly spoken about a desire to grow the game’s appeal and to not only shorten the overall length of games but also to increase the level of action within them.