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Breaking down MLB’s experimental rules changes

We first looked at the changes that are actually coming to baseball over the next couple of seasons. Now, we take a look at the experimental rules that may or may not come to the game.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Part 1 of our series looked at the recent rule changes jointly agreed upon by MLB and the MLBPA. Today in part 2, we’re looking at some of the proposed changes MLB is experimenting with in the Atlantic League this year.

Robo Umps

This one usually brings the most conversation and most disdain from the purists. “Human error has always been part of the game and always should be part of the game” is a thing you’ll hear them say. I happen to agree with that line of thinking, I just don’t know what it has to do with the topic. The players are human and they’ll always make errors and therefore the human error element of the game is not in any danger. Meanwhile when it comes to the officiating of the game, the goal should be as close to 100% accuracy as possible.

The big issue with this rule is not the merit of the idea but the execution of it. To call balls and strikes with technology, that technology has to be sophisticated and consistent. The only way the league is getting people to buy into robo umps is if it can show clear and consistent improvement in calling balls and strikes. Replacing inconsistent humans with inconsistent computer tracking isn’t going to fly. But if the tech is good enough, which is tougher than it sounds, then this is a no-brainer.

Dissenters will turn their noses up at it and preach about the “sanctity of the game” until their favorite team is on the business end of another Angel Hernandez “masterpiece.” And then reason and logic will prevail.

Moving the mound back 2 feet

This move doesn’t make much sense to me. Listen, there is absolutely a velocity problem in baseball. The average fastball keeps going up and up and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why it will stop. Players are naturally bigger and stronger than their predecessors and player development is only improving. And since there’s a direct correlation between increased velocity, and swings and misses, baseball finds itself in a strikeout crisis. So in that way, you understand moving the mound back. Gives the hitters longer to see and react thus decreasing perceived velocity.

Except moving the mound back isn’t only going to impact fastballs. Breaking balls will now have more time to break. MLB sliders with an extra 2 feet to break might increase swing and misses to the point where any gains you made with the fastball become negligible. Or increase walks to the point where you not actually seeing more action in the game.

Lowering the mound however, is tried and true method of decreasing velocity, helping offense, and you don’t have to worry about any unintended consequences that come along with it. And there’s even research that shows it could decrease arm injuries, as throwing from a decreased slope reduces stress on the arm. It worked in 1968. It’ll work now.

Don’t back the mound up. That’s dumb. Just lower it and call it a day.

Banning shifts

This one falls into the meh category. I understand the argument for and against it and honestly, either way, I’m fine. Banning them would certainly help offense and that’s not a bad thing. Plus I’m not sure anyone is going to full throat rant against it considering shifts are not something we saw with any regularity until a few years ago. There’s no “sanctity of baseball” argument here. People will say things like rules don’t need to interfere with strategy of the game but every strategy of every game ever played has been dictated by the rules. So that kind of talk doesn’t make much sense. I’m fine either way here.

Bigger bases

Sure. Probably a safety measure here considering how many injuries occur around the bases, so unless there’s an unclear part of this rule, it shouldn’t a big deal. I’ve always felt first base should have a bag in foul territory for the runner so we can avoid the needless foot spikings that happen so frequently, but I don’t know if that’s part of the rule change. Pretty sure first and third base would just be slightly bigger, which is fine.

No mound visits except injury or pitching change

This is an interesting one, specifically as it pertains to catchers coming out to “get on the same page” with the pitcher. If you watch baseball, it happens a lot, as does the catcher going out to talk to the pitcher just to waste time and let the reliever get ready. Removing that wouldn’t be terrible. However, I think a rule limiting it is probably feasible than banning them all together. The mound visit limit introduced last year is a good start, though I think it could be lowered. But banning them all together feels like an extreme solution to a mild problem.

We should, however, put timers on pitching coaches and managers as they walk to the mound and fine them for excessive slowness. It’s ironic a sport that lives and dies on the altar of hustle has managers and coaches walk to the mound like their dragging a dead body behind them.