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MLB asks the Atlantic League to play around with more rule changes

(Photo by Reed Hoffmann/Getty Images)

We’ve chatted previously about one of the new initiatives Major League Baseball will be testing over the next few months in the independent Atlantic League.

The TrackMan system was rolled out at the league’s All-Star Game earlier this week. It’s a way for balls and strikes to be automatically called by a computer, eliminating the human error of home plate umpires that has caused such a raucous over the last 150 years.

With the exception of occasional delays communicating the ball-strike verdict to the umpire, who then made the signal at the plate, the trial run seemed to go well with no other major speed bumps.

Now MLB has announced it will dabble with four more rule changings that also will be experimented with in Atlantic League play.

“We have seen a tremendous amount of interest in these initiatives from our players, coaches and fans throughout the first half of the season,” Atlantic League president Rick White said in a statement. “We look forward to working further with Major League Baseball and observing these additional rule changes in action throughout the remainder of the year.”

The most controversial change, at least for the conservative sect of fans, would allow hitters to steal first base, something we suppose would have made Rickey Henderson even more valuable than he was.

Here’s how that would work: Batters may try to steal first on any pitch not caught in flight, including wild pitches, passed balls, pitches that bounce in the dirt and temporarily roll away from the catcher.

It basically expands the dropped third strike rule to every pitch that’s thrown. And, of course, the hitter will always run the risk of being thrown out if he tries to run.

Mull that one over while he tell you what else is in store.


(Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

One foul bunt will be allowed with two strikes before it becomes a strikeout.

Pitchers will be required to step off the rubber to try a pickoff.

And umpires will be instructed to be a little more lenient when called upon to judge a check swing.

“Baseball is evolving. We are delighted to be a part of that evolution. We’re grateful Major League Baseball selected us to do these tests,” White said. “We understand and I believe our guests and our on-field personnel understand, it’s not going to be without a speed-bump here or there. But, overall, if you expect that, we came away doing pretty well.”

Aside from TrackMan and these other four rule changes, the Atlantic League is also being used by MLB to see how things go by banning the shift and requiring that all pitchers work to at least three hitters, unless he records the final out of the inning.

The league has also been experimenting with 18-inch bases, which shorten the distance between home and first by three inches. No mound visits are permitted by players or coaches other than pitching changes and medical visits. And time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45

All of these new rules are a part of MLB’s effort to accumulate as much information it can before entering the negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Players Association.

Implementing new rules might be an important give-and-take with the players before the current CBA ends following the 2021 season.

Other rule adaptations are also being experimented in other levels of the minors.

Instituting a pitch clock to help speed up the game has been on-going. Basically, a pitcher has 15 seconds to come to a set or start his motion with no runners on base. Once a runner reaches base, that increases to 20 seconds.

Also, teams have 30 seconds to throw a pitch after the completion of plays and 2:25 from the end of a half-inning to the start of the next.

MLB is also experimenting with placing a runner on second base to start every half-inning of extra-inning games. That rule would have been used in the 2019 All-Star Game had the situation developed.