A lot has changed in Major League Baseball (MLB) over the past two years. In 2022, the National League tradition of pitchers batting first was eliminated and extra innings were introduced. In 2023, a pitch clock was introduced and the bases got bigger. Defensive shifts were also banned. All in an effort to make baseball more dynamic and eliminate unnecessary time wasting.
But it seems that the commissioner’s office is still thirsty for more dynamism and less time. Just look at the Atlantic League, an independent league that has been a “laboratory” for MLB since 2019. The Atlantic League decided to add three new rules this year. All of them came at the request of the commissioner’s office, and this isn’t the first time. The pitch clock, which was introduced this year, was also a first for the Atlantic League before it was implemented.
The first new rule is the designated hitter. A team can use one of its substitutes, other than the starting lineup, as a pinch-hitter. The substitute can be used at any time with runners on base and can return to the field at the end of the offensive inning.
The second rule is an additional restriction on bunting. Currently, MLB allows a pitcher to take his foot off the plate or make a runner-stopping motion up to two times under the new rules, but the Atlantic League has reduced this to just one. If a runner is not caught on the second attempt to remove his foot from the pitching surface, it is a walk.
Most notable is the third new rule, the Double-Hook. If a starting pitcher is pulled after five innings, the team loses its designated hitter. The next pitcher to bat must be a reliever.
The double-hook rule enforces starting pitching. Under the Double Hook Rule, all teams must use their starting pitchers for at least five innings, regardless of how many runs or pitches they allow that day. Failure to do so would result in a hole in the batting order, with the pitcher coming in instead of the designated hitter. In this case, your team’s chances of winning will drop dramatically, so you need to extend your starters somehow.
In the modern MLB, five innings is not an easy standard. Last year, there were 4860 starts in the MLB, and 3389 (69.7%) went five innings or more. That’s down nearly 16% from 4024 a decade ago. The MLB office would have liked to reverse this trend. With the new rule, they wanted to increase the value of starting pitchers and reduce the number of pitching changes to further reduce game time.
It’s unlikely that forcing starters to pitch will improve the quality of baseball, and it’s more likely that the rule will reduce it. In 2018, when the Tampa Bay Rays were short a starting pitcher due to injury, they brought in a quality reliever for the first inning. In the second inning, they brought in a “long relief” pitcher who could pitch long innings. In 45 of the 162 regular-season games that year (27.8%), an opener took the mound instead of a starter. The following year, Tampa Bay used a specialty reliever as the opener in 43 games, similar to the previous year. Tampa Bay’s “innovation” led to 90 wins the first year and 96 wins the following year.
Tampa Bay is a small market team that can’t spend more than $70 million in team payroll each year. Unlike other teams that can afford to buy players if they don’t have them, Tampa Bay innovated. After Tampa Bay’s success in the opener, the emphasis on starting baseball was reduced. Now, MLB teams periodically change things up a bit and have “bullpen days” where they play games without professional starters. The double-hook rule would bring all these changes and innovations back to square one.
Even in simple numbers, the five-inning mandate has a big impact. If you look at inning-by-inning performance, pitchers on average perform differently in innings 1-3 than in innings 2-4. This is because the probability of facing the top of the order in an odd numbered inning is very high. Then, in the fifth inning, runs allowed and ERA spike.
The fifth inning is difficult because the probability of facing the top of the order a third time increases. So in the fifth inning, a pitcher’s chances of giving up a run increase exponentially. The fifth inning is often referred to as the “magic inning” and can be the difference between winning and losing a game.
However, if the double-hook rule applies, the team would have to take the extra run and keep the starter in for the fifth inning. This is to keep the team’s offense alive, but it could result in the starting pitcher getting hit hard and costing the team the game. It could also lead to more blowout games, which could reduce the quality of the league 안전놀이터.
“In recent years, experiments in the Atlantic League have led to a faster pace of play and more dynamic play,” said MLB Senior Vice President of Operations Morgan Sward. “These experiments have proven to have the net effect of attracting more fans to MLB. We look forward to seeing how these other experiments will bring even more excitement to our fans.”
These attempts by the commissioner’s office to keep up with the increasingly fast pace of our time are welcome. But if these changes are detrimental to the essence of baseball, then we need to think again. Hopefully, the experiment in the Atlantic League will be refined to fit the essence of the game and will make its way to MLB.