Sunday, January 24, 2016

Baseball Suggestions

It's dead time in the world of Major League Baseball. There are a few free agent signings, but mostly nothing is happening until spring training in another month or so. Seemed like a good time to think about how the game could change for the better.
I was thinking about baseball largely because I ran across this story, about Commissioner Rob Manfred talking about bringing the designated hitter rule to the National League. I've thought for years that the two leagues needed to have the same rules. My preference would be to eliminate the DH entirely in both leagues, but anyone with a basic understanding of baseball politics and finances knows that will never happen. Too many players have longer careers because of the DH position, too many agents make more money from that, and too many owners are happier with more offense in the game. So the next best thing is to put the DH in the NL, to make the rules consistent.

I'd also like to see MLB make some tweaks to the replay review process. Outside of ball/strike calls (more on that in a bit), there's no reason to restrict replay on any play. If it happened in the game, it should be reviewable. Once a review is complete, umpires should explain the resulting decision, similar to how it works in the NFL. It doesn't have to be great detail, but at the very least they should say whether they're letting the call on the field stand because there's not enough evidence to overturn it, or if the call was verified to be accurate. And if the call is changed, it would be great to hear exactly what evidence caused the overturn.

As for balls and strikes, I know we're not going to see automation or review any time soon. But I'd at least like to see MLB looking into the technology. Last year, a couple of independent league games used an automated strike zone. MLB could organize a committee to look at the technology and study exactly how it might be used in the future.

In the playoffs last year, we saw how easy it is for a player to get injured on plays at second base. Rule changes to protect the pivot man on double plays should be considered. I know there was a review of that particular play, but I think MLB needs to be looking at rule changes to avoid the situation in the future.

This one is pretty minor, but it's one of my pet peeves about baseball scoring: we need a "team error". When a ball drops in the middle of three fielders, any one of whom could have caught it if they'd communicated properly, the batter shouldn't get a double. Figure out a way to assign the error to all the players involved, or the team at large.

Another minor one: when a batter checks his swing, the home plate umpire should always ask for help from the first/third base umpire. There's no good reason for the home plate umpire to be calling that play from behind the plate, when his colleague has a much better angle. The good umpires almost always ask for help on the close ones anyway, but there's no good reason not to simply make it a rule to ask every time.

Here's something that does not need to change: playoff seeding. When the top three teams in the NL were all from the Central division in last year's playoffs, it created a situation where one of the top three teams was out after a single wild-card playoff game. Yes, that was unfortunate, but it's not going to happen very often. One outlier year isn't a good reason to change the system.

What does need to change with the playoffs is the silly rule about the All-Star game determining home field advantage in the World Series. Get rid of that, use team records to determine home field just like every other series.

We all know baseball changes come extremely slowly, so I don't expect to see very much change this year. But I hope MLB is considering all of these things, which in my opinion would only improve a great game.

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