April 29: The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan spoke with PBL president Michael Shapiro about the league’s new rules for the 2021 season. It’s an interesting look at the reasoning behind the radical adoption of the “Knock Out” tactic, which was engineered without running the idea by Major League Baseball. “We didn’t get MLB approval, nor did we ask for it,” Shapiro tells Buchanan.
Shapiro details some of the challenges that lengthy extra-innings affairs present to an independent league: the cost of keeping a park staffed and lit late into the night, the difficulty of teams finding professional quality players able to report to Montana, Idaho and other less-populated areas on short notice to lessen the toll on an overtaxed bullpen, etc.
Buchanan and other Athletic writers surveyed players and staffers around MLB for their own reaction to the changes. Hunter Pence, Willie Calhoun, David Bell, Paul Goldschmidt and Terry Francona all weighed in. The column is a terrific read and well worth a look for those who are interested in the motivation behind the changes and some reaction from those within the sport.
April 27: The Pioneer Baseball League, one of several independent leagues designated this past offseason as an official “Partner League” of Major League Baseball, announced this morning that it will install a series of rule changes for the upcoming 2021 season. The PBL will test out the usage of designated pinch-hitters and pinch-runners, and on a larger scale, the use of a sudden-death “Knock Out” format to resolve games that end in nine-inning ties (i.e., a home run derby format supplanting the traditional extra-inning format). They’ll also change the appeal process on check swings.
Per the PBL’s release, the “Knock Out” format is being implemented “to avoid excessive strain” on pitching staffs. In this new format, each team would designate one player to receive five pitches in a “sudden death home run duel.” (The release does not specify who would be throwing the pitches.) If the initial “Knock Out” round ends in a tie, each team would then designate a second hitter to compete in a five-pitch showdown. This will continue until a winner can be declared.
The designated pinch-hitter and pinch-runner function in identical fashion to one another. A bench player who has not previously entered the game can either pinch-hit or pinch-run for “an eligible roster player who may then return to his defensive position for the remainder of the game, until otherwise substituted for.” Any player used as a designated pinch-hitter or pinch-runner is “thereafter ineligible to return to the game.” Both measures can be utilized only once per game, per team.
The PBL is also implementing a new “Check Swing” rule which allows the hitter to appeal to a base umpire on a check-swing decision made by the home plate umpire. Previously, that right has only been granted to the home plate ump or the catcher.
As with all experimental rule changes, be they in the minor leagues or in one of MLB’s newly designated “Partner Leagues,” the fact that such measures are being tested out does not make it a foregone conclusion that we’ll see them in Major League Baseball anytime soon — or ever at all. The current runner-on-second rule for extra-inning play is still a polarizing one, at best, and it’s not yet clear whether it’ll be implemented for the long haul or go down as a short-lived relic of the seasons which were directly impacted by the pandemic.
The Atlantic League, another new Partner League of MLB, is also planning to experiment with some changes during the 2021 season, including a “double hook” designated hitter rule and a move of the pitching rubber to a distance of 61 feet, six inches. (You can read more about those experiments and see how MLBTR readers voted in a poll on their merits here.) Those changes, unlike today’s PBL changes, were formally announced by Major League Baseball, indicating that they’re under more immediate consideration. MLB will surely keep a close eye on how things play out in the PBL, of course, but the distinction between the manner in which the two announcements came out ought to be noted.
As with the Atlantic League experiments, I’ll include a poll for each of the new rules so readers and commenters can weigh in on whether they’re in favor of the new formats.Link to Knock Out poll for iOS/Android app users) Link to poll) Link to poll) Link to poll)