Rabu, 25 Mei 2016

MLB's proposed changes to strike zone strike a chord with Mariners - The Seattle Times

CINCINNATI — The players are usually the last to know in these situations. So in the mid-morning hours of Saturday in the visitor's clubhouse of Great American Ball Park, most of the Mariners players were unaware of proposed rule changes for 2017 that would affect every one of them in some way.

"They're doing what?" said one of the pitchers, still not fully awake or understanding why.

Well, per an ESPN report, the Major League Baseball competition committee met last week during the owners' quarterly meetings in New York. From that meeting, the committee agreed to two proposals — changing the definition of the strike zone as well as the procedure for intentional walks.

There are multiple steps before the changes go into effect, but the plan is for both to be implemented for the 2017 season.

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    Let's start with the change for the intentional walk. Instead of a pitcher tossing four balls outside of the plate with the catcher standing, a manager could signal to the umpire that he wanted an intentional walk and the hitter would just take his base. The lull of the four balls process would be alleviated.

    "I'm fine with just putting up four (fingers) and having the guy go to first base," manager Scott Servais said. "I think they do that in high school and in college."

    Changing the rule also removes the possibility of a pitcher throwing wildly past the standing catcher. It usually happens at least once a season.

    "We are so geared to throw everything down in the zone and it's a completely differently feel to throw it up to a guy standing there," Steve Cishek said. "Some pitchers have a real problem with it."

    Servais has seen it happen first-hand.

    "I actually lost a game on a walk-off intentional walk wild pitch," he said. "It was in Triple A at the time, at the end of my career. Runners on second and third and we were going to walk a guy and the first pitch, it wasn't even close. I had to dive back toward the plate and I missed it and the game was over. I'm 35 years old thinking, 'well I've never had that happen before.'"

    While there were chuckles and stories of intentional walks gone bad, the subject of the strike zone being changed was not met with much enthusiasm.

    "No comment," said a Mariners' pitcher, who preferred to remain nameless. "I'm just sick of Major League Baseball always making changes like this."

    What elicited such a response?

    The proposed change is to make the strike zone smaller, raising it from just below the kneecaps to the top of the knee. It's a response to a trend of strikes even below the rulebook specifications being called.

    "It would be tough for sinkerballers," Cishek said. "I'll just have to adjust."

    On the surface, it would seem to help hitters. It would mean less groundballs and more balls in the air. The lower zone is blamed for increased strikeouts, fewer walks and lower run production.

    "In general, it becomes an advantage to the hitters," said Hisashi Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "The higher the ball is in the zone, the farther it goes. That doesn't just apply to me."

    But Iwakuma admitted that strike zone can vary from umpire to umpire. It's something that he's found different in MLB compared to his time in Japan.

    "The strike zone is firm in Japan," he said.

    While most pitchers disagreed with the concept of the new zone, they were still skeptical of significant changes. They've heard talk like this before.

    "I think it just varies from umpire to umpire," Cishek said. "It seems the umpire's interpretation."

    Both Cishek and Chris Iannetta mentioned the MLB Players' Association stepping into the discussions on the rule change. The report said it will be brought up during the labor negotiations this offseason.

    "It's like every other change that's come down, we've thought about it, we've bargained it back and forth and we left it open for testing," Iannetta said. "Nothing is wrong with tossing ideas back and forth. Whether it actually happens, we'll see."

    But ultimately, the decision comes down to MLB's rules committee, which is led by Mets general manager Sandy Alderson. That group of baseball executives can only approve the changes. And that committee isn't subject to players' union approval to make those changes.

    With the addition of replay and the changes to the slide rule at home and second base generating plenty of past debate, adjustments to the strike zone will be met with plenty of vocal opinions from all sides.

    And players will do what they've always done, the key to baseball success: adjust.

    "That's been the game the last 150 years," Iannetta said. "A pitcher's job is to keep the ball down and keep it out of hitters wheelhouse. Hitters' job is to hunt mistakes and try to get a ball up. No matter where the strike zone is, that's never going to change. Pitchers are still going to throw to the most advantageous spots and we are still going to look for the best pitches to hit."

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