MLB is planning some rule changes in the minors this year as an experiment to see whether it can make baseball better. New rules are needed to ensure that the 150-year-old sport has staying power.
Apparently the experiments will be parceled out among the various MiL levels. The plans go like this:
Bigger bases: This will be implemented in AAA. The bases will go from 15 inches square to 18, with the idea of increasing steals and infield hits. The change will also “reduce the chances of collisions on the basepaths,” for reasons I’m not following. I’m guessing advertisements on the bases will become easier to see, not that MLB would ever do something that sleazy.
Shifts: Rules limiting shifts will be inflicted on AA leagues. The defensive team will be required to place four players with both feet on the infield dirt. Presumably, the infielders will be allowed to step on the outfield grass at some point. MLB also warns that it may later require two infielders on each side of second base. The idea, obviously, is to prevent the unfair practice of defensive players being in a position to catch batted balls.
Pickoffs: Pitchers in high A will be required to step off the rubber before they can throw to any base. This will increase the number of balk calls, which will add much excitement to the game.
Step-offs: Pitchers in low A will be limited to two pickoff or step-off moves per plate appearance. This limitation may eventually be reduced to one. The pitcher can try a third pickoff, but if he doesn’t get the runner, a balk will be called.
Timers: The cleverly named “Low-A West” league will have timers for pitch deliveries, between-inning breaks and pitching changes. This will facilitate the recent trend of between-inning commercials running until after the inning starts.
Ball-Strike Calls: The “Low-A Southeast” league will have robo umps.
Except for the robo umps and, to a limited extent, the timers, these are fittingly Manfredesque, i.e., stoopid, ideas. If MLB wants more balls in play and more emphasis on running, the solution is simple: Move the fences back to historical norms. But MLB likes marketing dingerz, because marketing executives think “home run” is a cool term. So it’s trying to have it both ways, keeping the excessive longballs while also increasing hits on balls in play. The only thing likely to result is an explosion in offense, which will mean still more pitching changes.
Outlawing shifts, especially in the upper minors, is just idiotic. The point of the minors is to get players ready to play in the majors. Infielders need to get used to the same positioning they’ll have in the majors, unless you think errors are exciting.
The pickoff rule is bad because any rule that increases the emphasis on balks is bad. Nobody understands the balk rules anyway, so adding another layer, to say nothing of potentially a large increase in balks, will make the game more boring.
The limit on pickoffs and step-offs is the worst of all. Once the pitcher hits the limit, a good runner will have an easy steal. What’s so exciting about a steal attempt where the catcher has no chance? It’s like sanctioned cheating. Of course, the pitcher can make a third pickoff attempt, but that means still more balks.
This is what happens when Wall Street takes over a sport.