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How different would baseball be, if baseball were different?

We’re about to find out.

Baseball’s potential future will be showcased in the independent Atlantic League this year, and it includes robot umpires, a 62-foot, 6-inch distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate, and no infield shifting.

Those three rule changes are among a wide variety of experiments that the Atlantic League will run this season as part of its new partnership with Major League Baseball. The changes, announced Friday, include:

• Using a TrackMan radar system to help umpires call balls and strikes
• Extending the distance between the pitching rubber from 60 feet, 6 inches to 62 feet, 6 inches in the second half of the season
• Mandating that two infielders are on each side of the second-base bag when a pitch is released, with the penalty being a ball
• A three-batter minimum for pitchers — a rule MLB and the MLB Players Association are considering for the 2020 season as they near an agreement on a smaller set of changes
• No mound visits, other than for pitching changes or injuries
• Increasing the size of first, second and third base from 15 inches to 18 inches
• Reducing the time between innings and pitching changes from 2 minutes, 5 seconds to 1 minute, 45 seconds

While MLB has long tested potential rule changes in the minor leagues, its three-year partnership with the Atlantic League — an eight-team league that features former major leaguers trying to return to affiliated ball — offers the ability to try more radical rules.

“This first group of experimental changes is designed to create more balls in play, defensive action, baserunning, and improve player safety,” Morgan Sword, MLB senior vice president, league economics and operations, said in a statement. “We look forward to seeing them in action in the Atlantic League.”

This story goes into more detail and analyzes how likely it is that MLB could adopt these changes, and how much effect they would have. Most of the proposals have been at least talked about for some time, with the possible exception of the base sizes, which are presumably to encourage more steal attempts. Like many people, I dislike the idea of restricting the ability of teams to field players wherever they want – bring on the weird defensive alignments, I say – but otherwise I am intrigued. And hey, one member of the Atlantic League is the Sugar Land Skeeters, so if I want to see what these changes look like with my own eyes, I can do that. What do you think? Craig Calcaterra and the Effectively Wild guys have more.

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One Comment

  1. N.M. Horwitz says:

    I like shifts, and I love how teams have responded to them.

    Moving back the pitcher’s mound seems pretty sacrilegious, though. What’s next? 80 foot base paths? Seven innings? Ties?

    Three-batter minimums seem cruel. I like cutting down on mound visits and even am open to a pitch clock. Robots calling balls and strikes seems inevitable, but catcher framing is a huge part of that job. Bigger bases are whatever.