The shortened 2020 MLB season saw not only a change in the number of games played but also in a few rules that have affected baseball strategy. The MLB and one of its partner leagues announced on Wednesday that more changes are on the horizon.
The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, ALPB, announced that their league will be the initial testing spot for new changes that the MLB is behind in 2021. These changes go beyond the three-hitter rule for relievers or the free baserunner in extra innings. This time, the new rules will affect all nine innings of the game.
Double-Hook Designated Hitter
This rule will be a season-long experiment in which teams begin the game with a designated hitter, but once the starting pitcher is pulled, they will also lose their DH. This will force the clubs to either use a pinch hitter each time around or allow their relievers to hit.
The rule is designed to incentivize starters to go deeper into games in 2021. Most recently, around 90% of MLB starts lasted fewer than seven innings. It seems to be a hope of the MLB that this rule change will carry over and create longer starts for the five-man rotation.
Pitching Rubber Moved Back One Foot
Perhaps a rule that some may be in favor of, another new change that will be implemented in the second half of the ALPB season only is moving the rubber back to 61 feet and 6 inches. This adjustment comes along with the hope that the longer reaction time for hitters will create more offensive action in the game and lessen the strikeout rate, which was nearly 25% in the MLB and has seen a consecutive increase over 15 years.
A 93.3 MPH fastball — the average speed in today’s MLB — thrown at the new distance has the same reaction time as a 91.6 MPH fastball, which was the average speed in 2010. It is also worth noting that this change brings no increased risk of injury. No changes to pitching mechanics need to be made at this distance, which was confirmed in a test run by the American Sports Medicine Institute, ASMI.
The ALPB will also continue using the automated strike zone to assist umpires in calling balls and strikes. The league is making upgrades to the system to create more familiarity for players and the zone that they are used to while hoping to push for more balls in play.