The rule was established as a pandemic safety measure to get games finished earlier and cut down on how much time was spent at the ballpark. But uniformed personnel love it and while it offends some purists, many have admitted they came around to liking it.
My thought: Keep it but wait until the 11th inning.
Baseball is moving forward with other rules changes in the minors to gather more data for the new competition committee to consider next year. These are largely rules Theo Epstein helped define while working as a consultant with the league.
Pitch timers will be used for all full-season leagues. The plan is for 14 seconds with the bases empty and 19 with a runner on base. Below Triple A it will be 14 seconds and 18 seconds.
For all levels, batters must be in the box with nine seconds remaining. Last year these rules trimmed 20 minutes off games.
A runner also would advance automatically if a third pickoff throw is unsuccessful.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora enjoys watching college games and said the pace is enjoyable.
“It’s 14 seconds with nobody on and 17 if somebody’s on. It’s different and from what I see it’s working,” he said.
Larger bases (from 15 square inches to 18) would seem like an easy one. They cut down on injuries and there’s a little uptick in stolen bases.
The shift rule will be used in Double A and both levels of A ball. The defense must have four players in the infield with at least two on either side of second base.
This would obviously generate more offense. A sharply hit line drive over the second baseman’s head, a single for 100 years, will be a single again.
This also would de-nerd the game a bit. Games should be decided by players, not by which team is better at breaking down batted-ball data.
Is there a compromise here? What if both teams had three chances to shift every game?
I hear you screaming that the hitters should just adjust and go the other way. The pitching is too good.
Robot umps are coming. MLB prefers “automated ball-strike” but you get the idea. Pitches will be called by a tracking system.
This will be used in the Pacific Coast League through May 15 and in all AAA games starting May 17.
In the Low A Florida State League, MLB will test a system where an umpire’s ball/strike call could be challenged. Each team would have three appeals.
Not crazy about this. Either use the robo umps or not.
MLB also will use the independent Atlantic League as a laboratory to experiment with other changes.
Here is where it gets a little crazy.
What’s called the Double-Hook Designated Hitter adjustment will allow teams to keep their DH in the game only if the starting pitcher goes five innings. If not, the pitcher goes into the DH’s spot in the order.
The rule is intended to encourage longer starts and combat the use of openers. Epstein has contended, and rightly so, that starting pitchers have lost some cachet because their outings have gotten progressively shorter.
Fans once flocked to see Pedro Martinez face Roger Clemens and they would duel late into games. Now it’s a parade of relievers.
This seems a little much but is worth trying.
The Atlantic League also will try the Dropped Pitch Rule. Batters will be able to advance to first base on any pitch not caught in the air by the catcher, even with first base occupied.
Getting to first base safely will be credited as a hit.
The idea is to stress the importance of pitchers throwing strikes and catchers receiving the ball cleanly while rewarding speedy hitters.
This is an abomination against all mankind. A pitcher could bounce a curveball past the catcher on the first pitch and the batter could take first base? That sounds like a game you’d make up with your buddies on a sandlot.
Good intentions gone awry for Red Sox
Red Sox principal owner John Henry admitted during spring training in 2019 that the team made a mistake when it failed to re-sign Jon Lester after the 2013 World Series.
A few weeks later, Chris Sale was signed to a five-year, $145 million extension. Many of his teammates were in the room when the deal was announced and they broke into applause.
This time the Sox had gotten it right. They kept their ace after winning a championship.
Now, three years later, the deal looks like a loser. Injuries have limited Sale to 34 starts the last three seasons and he will open this season on the injured list. He has missed roughly 44 starts since 2019 and that number will grow to at least 50 this season. Probably more.
Sale turns 33 later this month and the Sox are left hoping he will make the adjustments to age gracefully on the mound once he returns.
His talent suggests he can. But will his body allow it?
A few other observations on the Sox:
▪ Nate Eovaldi is scheduled to make his third consecutive Opening Day start. That would put him in good company in team history.
The only other pitchers to start three or more Opening Days in a row since 1970 are Lester, Martinez, Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, and Luis Tiant.
Martinez (1998-2004) and Clemens (1988-94) share the franchise record of seven.
▪ Garrett Whitlock upgraded from No. 72 to No. 22. The righthander considers it a tribute to Rick Porcello, who he has never met but admires.
Tanner Houck turned down an opportunity to give up 89 for a lower number.
“I made my debut with 89 and I’m keeping it. I kind of like it,” he said. “I think it’s unique.”
Houck is the only Sox player in history to wear 89.
▪ Say this for Cora, he doesn’t hide from his past. In discussing the much better pace of college games, a reporter wondered if major league teams should copy Vanderbilt’s system of the players wearing watch-like bands to transmit signs between the catcher and pitcher.
“Technology-wise, you’re asking the wrong guy,” said Cora, who was suspended in 2020 for helping the 2017 Astros steal signs with a video camera.
▪ Here’s a strange one: The Sox are scheduled to play one night game in the first 12 days of the season.
They open with three games in four days in New York. Only the April 10 game is at night and that’s because ESPN picked it up for Sunday night baseball.
Then come three consecutive day games in Detroit, a day off and four straight day games at Fenway against the Twins. The Sox won’t play consecutive night games until April 19-20.
▪ The Sox moved into the Fenway South Complex in 2012. Eleven seasons later it’s not big enough.
The Sox have a series of white tents set up outside the offices and clubhouses that serve as meeting space, dining rooms, office space, and weight rooms. The team also installed two artificial turf rugs over sidewalks outside the major league clubhouse that are used for defensive drills.
The tents serve their purpose but the Sox will eventually want something better than tents and repurposed sidewalks.
“I’m sure there are some renovations or capital projects that will be on the radar in the coming years,” Sam Kennedy said.
▪ The Texas Rangers have set a Tuesday deadline for any unvaccinated players to get a Johnson & Johnson shot to be eligible to play in Canada against the Blue Jays on Opening Day.
President of baseball operations Jon Daniels told reporters his message to the players was simple: “It is what it is. The games are on the schedule and the laws are the laws.”
In other words: Get the shot and go do your job.
Red Sox officials always carefully parse their words on this topic, saying they encourage everybody to get vaccinated.
The Sox can’t mandate vaccines. But they should stop tiptoeing around this issue and speak out more forcefully. Sale and any others have the right not to be vaccinated. But that doesn’t make it right in the context of a team setting.
CHARGE AN ERROR
MLB has a bad draft plan
Every company should name a Vice President of Common Sense, a person to step in when a bad idea is approved and squash it.
MLB needs one. The league announced it will host a draft combine at Petco Park for up to 330 prospects. It’s scheduled for June 14-20 and will be televised by MLB Network.
The College World Series is scheduled for June 17-27. Why hold the combine at the same time as the CWS? MLB should be supporting college baseball, not programming against it.
I’m told the league will work with the NCAA to have better timing down the road. Maybe this idea should have waited.
MLB also will host the draft in Los Angeles from July 17-19. The All-Star Game festivities are July 18-19.
This also is a bad idea. The draft should stand on its own, not be dwarfed by the All-Star Game, Home Run Derby, and other events.
It also unnecessarily complicates how front offices do their business. Team execs should have a chance to focus on the draft and then the trade deadline, not juggle both at the same time.
Most NFL and NBA draft picks are well-known college players who move right onto professional rosters. Baseball can never duplicate that.
MLB also seems to be disincentivizing hard work with a draft combine. If teams want to get to know prospects, they can go on the road and get to know them.
As one executive with a scouting background said, a combine feels like just another way for small-market teams to save money.
The curious Freeman saga
The Braves won the World Series Nov. 2, Freddie Freeman securing the final out at first base. On March 14, president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos was reduced to tears after ending Freeman’s tenure in Atlanta. There’s a book to be written about what went wrong in between raising the trophy and the franchise prodding a beloved player out the door less than five months later.
Freeman became a free agent after the Series, having turned down a five-year, $135 million extension during the season. Talks with his agency, Excel, never gained traction and communication was sparse during the lockout.
As Freeman considered other teams, Anthopoulos ended any chance at his returning by trading for Oakland first baseman Matt Olson, who turns 28 later this month, and swiftly signing him to an eight-year, $168 million deal.
The Braves parted with four prospects, including 2021 first-round pick Ryan Cusick, a Sudbury native.
“This is the hardest decision and transaction I’ve had to make,” Anthopoulos said.
Then the Dodgers signed Freeman for six years and $162 million. That the Braves and Freeman couldn’t have done a deal for close to that amount is hard to fathom.
ESPN reported that the Braves offered $140 million over five years, a $25 million gap from what Freeman was seeking.
Olson is 4½ years younger and a native of suburban Atlanta. He’s not Freeman but is hardly a consolation prize. His adjusted OPS the last three seasons was 139. Freeman’s was 142.
On the days Clayton Kershaw starts, the Dodgers could have four former MVPs on the field if Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, and Freeman are in the lineup. Their projected lineup has eight former All-Stars and the overall roster is so loaded that former Cy Young winner David Price may be a $32 million No. 5 starter … Written a week ago in this space: “The Rockies are a constant source of mystery among executives from other clubs.” Then came the inexplicable signing of Kris Bryant for seven years and $182 million. It was a move that had the industry stumped. Bryant had a .901 OPS over the first five years of his career. It’s .796 the last two and he’s dealt with a series of injuries. Plus his play in the outfield, which has been a bit below average in recent years, won’t benefit from the big dimensions at Coors Field … Buck Showalter knows how to handle New York. He named Jake DeGrom as his Opening Day starter on the first day the Mets worked out, heading off any debate about whether the honor should go to Max Scherzer. He also sent a group text to all his players when the lockout ended knowing he’d be asked which player he called first. Showalter then ordered the practice fields at the spring training complex be renumbered. In true Mets fashion, they were out of order for years … Betts is moving around better at Dodgers camp now that the bone spur in his right hip has healed. Betts had an .854 OPS last season, his lowest since 2015. Manager Dave Roberts said Betts will build up carefully to guard against any issues … The Rays are really going to have to earn a playoff spot. Thirteen of their final 16 games are against the Red Sox (3), Astros (6) and Blue Jays (4) … The Yankees are counting on Josh Donaldson to give what can be an unemotional team some fire. But the real value of their trade with the Twins will be how it improves their defense. Gary Sanchez is a detriment behind the plate and wasn’t hitting nearly well enough to make that a trade-off. The catching tandem of Kyle Higashioka and Ben Rortvedt will help the pitching staff and Isiah Kiner-Falefa can hold down shortstop until Anthony Volpe is ready. But where is DJ LeMahieu going to play? … The Mets drafted six players in 2020 under former GM Brodie Van Wagenen. Only fifth-rounder Eric Orze, a righthanded reliever, is still with the organization. The others have all been traded or released … Happy birthday to Manny Alexander, who is 51. The infielder played 101 games for the 2000 Red Sox, starting games at third base, shortstop, second base. He had a .586 OPS, however and was released after the season … Congratulations to dedicated Red Sox fan Joyce Dos Santos, who got engaged to Kyle Blouin at Fenway Park on Friday in a well-orchestrated surprise. We wish them the best.