Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Major rule change in the minors

Image- Jay Floyd
The national pastime is changing.  At least at the developmental level for affiliated professional teams.

In a rule change announced by Minor League Baseball on Wednesday, all extra innings will start with a runner on second base.

The goal with the rule adjustment is to expedite games and reduce any over-usage of pitchers.

Specifics on the announcement from MiLB are listed below.

The runner at second base will be the player in the batting order position previous to the lead-off batter of the inning (or a substitute for that player). By way of example, if the number five hitter in the batting order is due to lead off the 10th inning, the number four player in the batting order (or a pinch-runner for such player) shall begin the inning on second base. Any runner or batter removed from the game for a substitute shall be ineligible to return to the game, as is the case in all circumstances under the Official Baseball Rules.

The extra inning rule change was tested in rookie level leagues (Gulf Coast League and the Arizona League) in 2017.  Also, the World Baseball Classic used the guideline in its tournament last year as well.

Reactions from fans regarding the modification throughout the minors haven't been good.  Baseball purists have expressed concern with alterations to the tradition of the game.  Others worry that the update will reach the big leagues at some point.  A certain spouse of mine, upon hearing the news of virtual ghost runners being inserted into a contest, asked if adding the 10-run rule, common in children's games, was next on the agenda.

In years past I have talked with Phillies minor leagues coaches that have advocated for an innings limit, with overall health and development concerns in mind.  Following a stretch in 2015 when Double-A Reading played into extra innings for three straight days, playing 45 innings and having to use three position players on the mound, coach Mickey Morandini expressed an interest in seeing games ruled a tie.

"I don't see a reason why there can't be a tie in the minor leagues," Morandini a former big league All-Star that went on to also coach in the majors, said at the time.  "They're really not going to affect anything really.  So, I hope it's being talked about a little bit.  I hope it doesn't come down to position players start getting hurt before they start making decisions and changing their minds and coming up with something to alleviate having to throw position players in a game."

Current players contacted for feedback were reserved with their replies, expressing minimal opinions on the matter.  However, former players with no worries about how their opinions will land on the ears of higher-ups in their organization were far more open.

Former reliever Stephen Shackleford, who set the Reading Fightins Phils' saves record in 2015, was outspoken on the matter.

"Honesty, I think it's stupid.  They keep trying to change the game to make it quicker.  This is completely changing the game.  It's no longer just a (pitch clock) to follow.  It is now a whole new rule that is changing baseball.  My opinion is if the game is too long for you, it's not for you and you're never going to get those viewers," Shackleford asserted.

Another former Phillies minor league reliever, lefty Zach Morris, also doesn't necessarily care for the new rule.

"I understand why they would propose this but at the same time it's taking away from the excitement of extra innings," Morris said.  "Some of the most exciting games I have been a part of have come on super late inning walk-offs and I feel that, as a fan, it would be less exciting starting with someone on base."

Additional changes to the minor league rule book for the coming season include a 15-second pitch timers for hurlers when there are no runners on base.  If the pitcher fails to begin his wind up in the time permitted, the batter will be awarded a ball.  Previously in the minors, the pitch clock was in place only when runners were on base.

Also there is a limitation on mound visits by coaches and position players, with Triple-A clubs allowed six total visits per team, Double-A clubs allowed eight visits per team and full-season Class A teams will be allowed 10 visits per team.

With the minors and its players serving as the testing ground for these rules, it'll be easier to adopt such changes at the top level at some point.  The pitch clock, in some fashion, will likely be the first rule change to graduate and reach the big leagues.  Until then, head on out to a minor league game and see the alterations to the game you love for yourself.
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