Friday, March 8, 2019

MLB Posts Atlantic League Rules, Including Robot Ump

Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League announced a finalized list of experimental rules changes MLB will test in the AL, including the computer-assisted home plate umpire strike zone feature discussed earlier. Pitcher mound visits will go to zero, bases will get wider, and infielder-based defensive shifts will be banned in some of the other rule changes.

It's official: Computers are coming to ALPB.
In February, we first learned of MLB's partnership with the independent ALPB when the pair of professional baseball leagues published a joint press release.

At the time, I wrote that the move benefits MLB because it allows the highest level of baseball to test realistic and off-the-wall rules changes alike in an environment that features professional players, but is not subject to the confines of affiliated ball or the MLB Players Association.

For the Atlantic League, the move gives the league exposure, access to MLB's computer tracking software with a direct link to MLB scouts, and could potentially attract more talent to the ALPB, as the indy league hopes to open a pipeline to the MiLB draft and then-some. In short, MLB gets its sandbox while ALPB gets to sell itself as a partner of Major League Baseball.
Related PostMLB Taps Atlantic League for Reported Robot Ump Test (2/27/19).

Say goodbye to mound visits while you're at it.
Last time out, we wrote that MLB is looking to change—expansion, electronic zones, etc.—and that this partnership is an offer that ALPB can hardly afford to pass on, especially knowing that if it doesn't partner with affiliated ball, some other indy league will.

The top billed change—the electronic strike zone—will take the form of "assistance," as in the plate umpire will be "assisted" by the radar-based TrackMan PitchCast in calling balls and strikes. Naturally, and probably intentionally, the press release remains vague about what MLB/ALPB means by "assisted." Will players still be able to blame umpires since they're still in command or is this language just meant to placate egos?

As we said before, this will probably result in a lot more strikes on edge pitches—the "funny" ones.

The full list of rules changes MLB will test in the Atlantic League include:
  1. TrackMan will assist the home plate umpire in calling balls and strikes;
  2. No mound visits will be permitted other than in an actual pitching change or medical purpose;
  3. Pitchers must face at least three batters or end an inning before being replaced;
  4. 1B, 2B, and 3B will be increased in size from 15-inches square to 18-inches square;
  5. Institutes requirement that two infielders stand on each side of second base at time-of-pitch;
  6. Reduce time between innings and pitching changes from 2:05 to 1:45, a 20-second decrease;
  7. For 2nd half of season, extend distance between home plate and pitching rubber by 24 inches.
Gil's Call, Quick Takes:
  1. How many times do we have to say that circa-2019 electronic strike zones are flawed?
  2. MLB has already limited mound visits, so this move will test game impact by their elimination.
  3. This was a 2019 MLB rule change proposal that went it'll be tested in the ALPB.
  4. Lessens the likelihood of collision between runner and fielder (unless Manny Machado plays).
  5. There has been talk of MLB looking to eliminate defensive shifts and this rule is a test of that.
  6. Without directly saying "what happens if we get rid of one commercial break," this is that.
  7. This will give pitchers more chance to spin the ball while giving batters a split second to react.
According to MLB Senior Vice President of League Economics and Operations, MLB hopes to see the rule changes create more balls in play, defensive action, baserunning, and improved player safety."

This is the first of a three-season MLB and ALPB partnership.


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