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MLB Proposes Rule Changes to Speed Pace of Play

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The New York Post

 

The intentional walk could turn into a very brief talk - as in the umpire declaring, "Batter take your base!" and onto the next hitter.

A source confirmed an ESPN report that Major League Baseball has proposed eliminating the practice of throwing four balls for a free pass, as well as raising the lower border of the strike zone from "the hollow beneath the knee cap" to the top of the hitter's knees. Both proposals must be approved by the Players Association, and a source concurred with the ESPN report that the altering of the intentional walk is more likely to be passed than a change of the strike zone.

Both initiatives are part of commissioner Rob Manfred's effort to improve the pace and time of games. Manfred told The Post late last week the league's talks with the union about playing-rules changes are focused "almost exclusively" on pace of play. Another proposal, as The Post reported, calls for a limitation on mound visits.

MLB and the Players Association also are exploring whether the replay-challenge system can be tweaked to help games proceed more quickly.

The desire to change the strike zone emanates from the concern over the abundance of walks and strikeouts in games. An elevation of the strike zone, league officials believe, would result in more balls in play and therefore more action - ideally in fewer pitches per at-bat, thereby moving the games along more swiftly.

The transformation of the intentional walk would have less of a tangible impact. There were 932 intentional walks issued last season (thanks, Baseball-Reference.com), making for one IBB every 2.6 games, and each such play lasts about a minute.

However, getting rid of the old-school intentional walk would subtract a human element from the game: Not all pitchers are equally adept at this skill.

Last July 23, in a Giants-Yankees game at Yankee Stadium, Joe Girardi called off an intentional walk when Dellin Betances' first ball sailed well over Brian McCann's head and hit the backstop on a bounce. Betances proceeded to retire the batter, Brandon Crawford, on a groundout.

Girardi's lone year managing the Marlins, 2006, hit a high point on June 22 when his best player Miguel Cabrera swung at what was supposed to be an intentional ball by the Orioles' Todd Williams and delivered a go-ahead hit for a Florida victory.

Voiding this part of the play, then, would take away what actually can be a difficult decision for certain managers when it comes to certain pitchers pulling off the task competently.

kdavidoff@nypost.com

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February 7, 2017
 
 
 

 

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