Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Atlantic League Debuts New Rules, E-Zone

After a half-season's delay, the Atlantic League and MLB announced the debut of an automated ball-strike system (ABS) at Wednesday's All-Star Game in York. TrackMan powers the computer zone technology, as it does in Major League Baseball's pitch tracking efforts; umpires will hear ABS prompts after each pitch. ALPB also will institute a series of rule changes for the second half of its 2019 season.

New Rules, Atlantic League
Electronic Balls and Strikes: TrackMan will deem pitches "ball" or "strike" based on similar methodology to how the technology functions at the Major League level. A Human home plate umpire will wear a Bluetooth-connected AirPod earpiece paired with an iPhone, which is hooked up to a software program in the press box whose sole task is to call balls and strikes. The human umpire will still retain final clerical authority over pitch-calling if the system is clearly wrong (which we anticipate it will be at times).

SIDEBAR: As the ALPB-MLB joint statement clearly indicates that MLB's "for entertainment only" pitch tracking technology is to be used to actually call pitches during live gameplay, it logically is subject to the same criticism and commentary as the MLB version. Our series on baseball's electronic strike zone, its pitfalls, errors, and complications, can be found at the following links.
Related PostPodcast - Truth About Baseball's Electronic Strike Zone (6/5/19).
Related PostVideo - Truth About Baseball's Electronic Strike Zone (5/30/19).
Related PostMLB Fight with Hernandez Evokes 20-Year-Old Feud (5/24/19).
Related PostCall for Umpire Accountability & the 97% Plate Score (4/19/19).

As well as a handful of times that TrackMan actually failed in MLB such that post-game adjustment to the vertical strike zone changed an umpire's QOC from incorrect to correct. As previously written, the electronic system has a difficult time with real-time adjustments to individual strike zones (e.g., the computer doesn't know how to adjust during the game, so it must be adjusted afterward).
Related PostMLB Ejection 085 - Lance Barrett (1; Turner Ward) (6/12/19).
Related PostMLB Ejection 077 - Jeremie Rehak (4; Brad Ausmus) (6/9/19).
Related PostMLB Ejections 044-45 - Jeff Nelson (3-4; ATL-MIA) (5/3/19).
Related PostBad Computer Umpire - Faulty Pitch Data Defames Kulpa (4/6/19).

Pitchers may no longer pick off from plate.
Pitchers Required to Step Off Rubber to Attempt Pickoff: Simply put, pitchers will no longer be permitted to throw to a base from the pitcher's plate; a disengage will be required. Rules-wise, this means any errant pickoff throw that enters the stands will be from a pitcher treated as an infielder—a two-base award. The release did not specify whether the penalty for a pickoff play from the rubber would result in a balk or just a dead ball.

One Foul Bunt Permitted with Two Strikes: Batters will now have an extra chance to bunt, no longer subject to striking out with two an extent. If a batter achieves a two-strike count, one foul bunt will be permitted and counted as a simple foul ball with no further penalty (the "he bunts foul on third strike" rule, 5.09(a)(4), will be suspended). Any subsequent bunt attempt after having foul bunted one two-strike pitch shall result in a strikeout, as in OBR 5.09(a)(4).

Batters can now steal on any dropped pitch.
Batters May Steal First Base: Any pitched ball not caught by the catcher shall be subject to the same baserunning rules for the batter as an uncaught third strike, with the exception of the first base occupied with less than two out exclusion. The batter's election to become a runner (or not) shall be optional, but if invoked by the batter on a wild pitch, passed ball, or other uncaught pitch, it places him (and any forced runners) in jeopardy of being retired: "The batter shall be deemed to have chosen to become a runner under this rule if (i) both of the batter’s feet leave the batter’s box, and (ii) the batter, in the umpire’s judgment, demonstrates or otherwise creates an impression of his intent to advance to first base. If first base is occupied when the batter chooses to become a runner this creates a force play."

ALPB wants umpires to observe batter wrists.
"Check Swings" More Batter-Friendly: Perhaps the most ambiguous rules change of all is the instruction to base umpires to give greater deference to the offense when ruling on half swing appeals. Here's ALPB's guidance: "In making his ruling, the base umpire should determine whether the batter’s wrists 'rolled over' during an attempt to strike at the ball and, if not, call the pitch a ball."

Gil's Call: Each of the four aforementioned rules changes appear designed to assist the offensive team and generate baserunners or keep batsmen at the plate for an extra pitch or two. This is baseball's "increase offense" initiative, which is an interesting pairing with several of the Atlantic League's pace-of-play rules changes already in existence.

The following Atlantic League first-half rules changes will remain in place:
> No mound visits permitted other than to change pitchers and attend to injuries;
> Non-injured pitchers must face 3+ batters or end an inning before being replaced;
> Bases are increased from 15-inches square to 18-inches square;
> Time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45.

Alternate Link: UEFL Summary of Atlantic League rules changes for second half (CCS)


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