Changes are coming to baseball, this much is clear.
For now, the changes are limited to the Atlantic League, which is instituting a “double hook” substitution rule, in which when the starting pitcher is replaced the team also loses its designated hitter, and moving the mound to 61’6” for the second half of the season.
Though these are just in independent ball for now, the league previously experimented with the three-batter minimum (now a major-league rule), restricting the shift (in Double-A this year), and 18-inch square bases (which will be used in Triple-A in 2021). Thus, it seems inevitable that those changes will trickle up to Major League Baseball, perhaps as soon as next year when the new collective bargaining agreement is agreed to by the league and players.
Over at The Score, Travis Sawchik laid out a great case for why baseball needs to change. As he noted, strikeouts have risen to the point where one out of every four plate appearances ends in a strikeout, and the league-average batting average is just .235 entering Thursday, which would best the previous season low of .237 from 1968.
If the year 1968 stands out, that’s because it was “the year of the pitcher,” in which Bob Gibson finished with a 1.12 ERA and Denny McClain won 31 games. Not coincidentally, 1969 was the year the mound was lowered by five inches. But that’s not the only precedent for MLB changing its rules, Sawchik lays out how the league changed its rules with regard to the mound and the batter’s box a number of times prior to 1893 to make the game more exciting and induce more action.
But baseball is not the only sport to make rule changes to improve its entertainment product. When Dr. James Naismith originally created the rules for basketball there were only 13, including the fact that players could not run with the ball. In 1967, the NCAA banned dunking, a prohibition that lasted 10 years. Similarly, 1967 was the first year in which the NBA had a three-point line, which seems almost unthinkable in the age of Steph Curry. Of course, the rise of the modern NBA can also be directly linked to the banning of hand-checking in 2003, which has forced major defensive changes in the game.
None of those rule changes hurt the popularity of basketball — in fact, you could convincingly argue that these changes have increased the sport’s popularity in the US and abroad. That’s not the only widely popular sport to go through significant changes, either. Owners in the NFL are voting on 13 proposed rule changes this offseason, some of which are almost certain to pass.
I don’t know if any of the proposed changes to baseball will come to pass or will help the game, but it’s just wrong to suggest that baseball does not need changes or that other sports don’t do this. In addition, I can’t make any guarantees about how this could affect Cleveland’s offense, but after watching Carlos freaking Rodón no-hit the team I am open to any and all suggestions.