MLB announced some experimental playing rules will be implemented across the minor leagues during the upcoming 2021 season.
These were put in place, according to MLB, in order to “increase action on the basepaths, create more balls in play, improve the pace and length of the games and reduce player injuries.”
Here are the rules and how we ranked them from the most realistic to make it to MLB to the least likely.
- Triple-A (larger bases): To reduce player injuries and collisions, the size of first, second and third base will be increased from 15 inches square to 18 inches square. The Competition Committee also expects the shorter distances between bases created by increased size to have a modest impact on the success rate of stolen base attempts and the frequency with which a batter-runner reaches base on groundballs and bunt attempts.
I really love this due to the safety scenario and the fact that we could see more base-stealing. The former will keep the players away from any collisions that could happen due to limit foot placement while making outs. Ankles rejoice!
The latter part probably is making Rickey Henderson roll his eyes right now, but I doubt that slight difference will make anyone any closer to breaking his MLB record 1,406 stolen bags.
It also could create more “drama,” if you will, when it comes to runners getting on base with those close-to-call situations on ground balls and close plays. Let’s just hope we still get to witness more Ji-Man Choi’s stretches at first. Those are gorgeous.
- Double-A (defensive positioning): The defensive team must have a minimum of four players on the infield, each of whom must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield dirt. Depending on the preliminary results of this experimental rule change, MLB may require two infielders to be positioned entirely on each side of second base in the second half of the Double-A season. These restrictions on defensive positioning are intended to increase the batting average on balls in play.
I could see this being executed now that we have a better measure of where the infield would play (i.e. two infielders on either side of second base). And I also have Buster Posey to thank for that.
He felt strongly about getting rid of the shift and it had to do with what MLB is trying to institute to making more impressive, fun plays.
“If you’ve got Brandon Crawford playing a traditional position at shortstop, and a hard ground ball is hit up the middle, he’s got an opportunity now to make a diving play and show off his arm, but instead, he’s already standing there, so it’s a routine ground ball and it’s not exciting,” Posey said recently.
Teams love to shift against Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, which has cost him plenty of hits over his career.
A’s players Matt Olson and Jed Lowrie also have spoken out about it. I think now that we know it won’t be too crazy or change too much of how the game is played defensively. I don’t hate this idea and from what I’ve heard (I haven’t heard from every single player mind you), it doesn’t appear the players do either.
- High-A (“step off rule): Pitchers are required to disengage the rubber prior to throwing to any base, with the penalty of a balk in the event the pitcher fails to comply. MLB implemented a similar rule in the second half of the Atlantic League season in 2019, which resulted in a significant increase in stolen base attempts and an improved success rate after adoption of the rule.
I could see this being implemented in MLB. I think it’s a great measurement to utilize across the league, but southpaws might beg to differ.
Lefties typically have a sneaky, fast way of being able to get a guy out when they’re caught snoozing, as they are able to stare right at the runner on first from their stretch position on the mound.
I also believe this will be somewhat simple to implement by pitchers.
- Low-A (pick off limitation, pitch timer, and ABS): Pitchers will be limited to a total of two “step offs” or “pickoffs” per plate appearance while there is at least one runner on base. A pitcher may attempt a third step off or pickoff in the same plate appearance; however, if the runner safely returns to the occupied base, the result is a balk. Depending on the preliminary results of this experimental rule change, MLB will consider reducing the limitation to a single “step off” or “pickoff” per plate appearance with at least one runner on base.
The limited number of step offs ... I’m not sure. I would argue some pitchers would hate it because they enjoy an unlimited number of resets (throws to first base), but even shaving off this much time might not be a big change. I don’t feel it’s any different than a batter needing his reset to measure up at the plate, adjust his gloves, etc.
- Low-A West: In addition to the limitations on step offs/pickoffs, following successful pace of game rules testing among Florida State League teams in 2019, on-field timers (one in the outfield, two behind home plate between the dugouts) will be implemented to enforce time limits between delivery of pitches, inning breaks and pitching changes. The on-field timer used in Low-A West will include new regulations beyond the system currently used in Triple-A and Double-A to reduce game length and improve the pace of play.
Timers have been around long enough in the minors where I could see players being used to them. So I don’t believe there will be a ton of pushback on this. I remember watching a pitch clock in the minor leagues over five years ago.
I actually think this is a good idea. I could see it being an issue should a pitcher out of the bullpen feel rushed, but I don’t believe there is any reason it should take a long time in between innings.
- Low-A Southeast: In addition to the limitations on step offs/pickoffs, MLB will expand testing of the Automatic Ball-Strike System (“ABS”) that began in the Atlantic League and Arizona Fall League to select Low-A Southeast games to assist home plate umpires with calling balls and strikes, ensure a consistent strike zone is called, and determine the optimal strike zone for the system.
So I absolutely hate this for the most part. I know, I know -- I see what you all say about Angel Hernandez. I do like the fact that there could be a universal way to determine strikes and balls, but I like the human aspect of it. I’ve heard pitchers say they know certain umpires will favor their pitches because they know what they have in the repertoire.
And it literally isn’t a robot umpire behind the plate you guys. It’s a sensor that is delivered to a real-life human official.
Overall, not a fan.
"The game on the field is constantly evolving, and MLB must be thoughtful and intentional about progressing toward the very best version of baseball – a version that is true to its essence and has enough consistent action and athleticism on display to entertain fans of all ages,” Theo Epstein, consultant to MLB said in a statement.
For now, these are just tests, but with the way 2020 was used to experiment some rules, it wouldn’t be surprising if some, if not all, of these were implemented in the future.