Nothing about a 2020 Major League Baseball season will be “normal.” With that in mind, doesn’t this unique situation offer MLB, a sport seeking in-game shakeups, the chance to test run everything it has mulled implementing?
This is the perfect time to try out new technology and rule changes. That can include a robotic strike zone, a universal designated hitter, and a boatload of specific managerial restrictions such as the three-batter rule for pitchers — which has already been put in place but now makes more sense than ever to go forth with.
MLB is going to have a surplus of precautions in a hypothetical 2020 season. They also may have some innovations. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan MLB is toying with the prospect of having a robotic strike zone behind home plate with an umpire some feet behind it, as well as no mound visits for the catcher and pitching coach.
For those who have clamored it’s time to move on from home plate umpires, here’s your chance to see what it would look like.
Essentially, the umpires would be taking the machine under its wing, checking on it to make sure it’s functioning properly. The irony is the umpires could be losing their jobs to what they’re watching over if the experiment yields positive results.
Having no mound visits sounds cruel, and in some ways it is. That said, how many players are itching to simply get back on the field? The sport is inevitably going to be a bit different. You put up with some changes for the sake of playing games.
Over the last couple weeks it has been reported that MLB is expected to adopt a universal DH for the 2020 season. Even if you don’t like the concept of every team being able to add a bat of their choice to their lineup, isn’t it at least plausible to give it a try under these circumstances?
It will be intriguing to see how starting pitcher production is affected. National League pitchers have the luxury of an essential free out every time through the order with the opposing team’s starting pitcher. With a universal DH, they have an extra respectable hitter to face. Even for the league’s preeminent hurlers it will be fascinating to see where their ERAs and WHIPs lie at season’s end.
One could argue that having a three-batter rule on pitchers is unfairly impeding a team’s ability to strategize on their own terms. However, in a world where we’re talking about the prospect of seven-inning doubleheaders, what does it matter how creative the sport gets?
There’s a strong likelihood that a team viewed as a playoff shoo-in won’t be participating in such play this season. Why? How often do we see a perennial contender come out of the gate slow, and then the discussion surrounding them is whether they’ll wake up? Well, there’s a new element to a team struggling in the early stages of the regular season: we’re looking at a shortened season.
For the sake of argument, let’s say MLB has an 81-game season beginning in early-July. Last season the eventual World Series champion-Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, and Milwaukee Brewers slumped in the first half of the season and were hovering around .500 at the MLB All-Star break. Had it been an 81-game season all three teams would’ve missed the playoffs.
Under the same cutoff, the Cleveland Indians would’ve returned to the playoffs; the New York Mets and Arizona Diamondbacks wouldn’t have had optimistic, late-season surges.
Perhaps this favors young, rebuilding teams? Every year a couple young teams begin the season firing on all cylinders and then melt in the summer. With fewer games to play, they can go balls to the wall and power their way to playoff contention without having the drag of keeping up the pace for an extra three months.
Some will argue that a shortened season does close to nothing for MLB and its fans. In the scenario where that notion was the surefire end result, doesn’t it make sense to at least try to get something worthwhile out of the experience?
If success is found with the robotic strike zone then stick with it in 2021. If the machine turns on everybody then stick with a human behind the plate. Meanwhile, if teams try to sneak mound visits or the situation unravels, MLB can stick to the six-mound visit mandate.
If games having less black holes at the bottom of the order (pitchers) makes for a more enjoyable watching experience, roll with it into 2021. On the other hand, if home run rates continue to spike at jarring rates — which could happen with a universal DH — the powers that be can revert back to the DH being solely in the American League.
Any form of baseball played in a formalized manner this season is an experiment in and of itself. Can starting pitchers lock in with no crowd noise? Will players crack under strict guidelines? Can games be as exciting in the same location with no fans present?
Maybe we start seriously cracking down on all the sketchy things that take place in games with no crowd. Perhaps there’s a trial that can be done in regard to defensive shifts or to detect whether a runner is out/safe. A breakthrough with the latter could terminate game stoppage for instant replay, saving time and maintaining the flow of games.
No one in the Milky Way knows how a baseball season plays out this summer; MLB might as well play along with the unpredictability, experimenting with new rules and tools. What’s the worst thing that can happen, it doesn’t work out? The sport has bigger issues at its disposal than whether it can adapt.