With Minor League Baseball continuing to serve as the test kit for Major League Baseball this summer, let’s examine four rule changes for the 2021 season and what it means for the game, and why it should be obvious that they should receive a call-up to the show. These rules will be ordered top-down by what leagues the new changes were implemented in.
Triple-A: Slightly larger bases (excluding home plate), that are less slippery. According to Major League Baseball, the change is an increase from fifteen to eighteen inches. There are a few reasons as to why this is a positive step for baseball. First, for the health of the players, larger bases will help to reduce injuries and legs getting tangled up, as well as preventing scary instances of slipping while attempting to beat out close plays (some of you may recall the scary injury Bryce Harper experienced back in 2017.) Secondly, this will shorten the path from one base to the next, which could increase on-field action and lead to an increase in steals. More small ball and an increase in player safety? This is a no-brainer. Keep it.
High-A: Pitchers must step off the rubber if attempting to pick off a baserunner. As a Cardinals fan, the thought of a rule like this being implemented during the era of The Runnin’ Redbirds is tantalizing, to say the least. This rule is about increasing stolen base attempts and eliminating some of the advantages that left-handed pitchers have had in the past when it comes to keeping runners honest. While it’s foolish to expect Yordan Álvarez to become the first player to join the 40/40 club since 2006, with an adjustment like this, someone like Ronald Acuña Jr. absolutely could. Major League Baseball is attempting to revive a dying art, and baseball is better for it with a change like this.
Low-A (All): Maximum of two pickoff attempts per plate appearance. Sticking with solutions to encourage steals, this curbs the pitcher’s ability to keep runners honest in a slightly different manner. While Major League Baseball is instituting this in Low-A as a means of comparison to the change in High-A and vice versa, baseball would be best served to implement both. Forcing pitchers to limit the amount of times they can throw over while simultaneously making it a slower process will highly incentivize steals, and in turn will lead to a rise in more fastballs being thrown. One domino after another, all with the same end goal: increasing action for the fans. That is a combination you simply cannot beat, and thus, this is an easy yes once again.
Low-A (Southeast): Automated ball-strike system. (Robot Umps!) Long suggested and equally maligned by certain circles within the game, automated balls and strikes will be introduced for the first time this season. Utilizing The Hawk-Eye Ball Tracking System, this technology will be used to hopefully curb some of the more egregious mistakes that MLB umpires have been susceptible to since the inception of the game. Two important things to note with this are that the technology being implemented has been used since 2001 in a variety of sports, mainly cricket and tennis. Secondly, and most importantly for those opposed, an umpire will still be present behind the catcher. Using an earpiece of some kind, the Hawk-Eye system will deliver the verdict, which will then be called on the field. This is the key to making this successful. Introducing this while still retaining the imagery and positioning of the umpire behind the dish will allow for a seamless experience for the fans, and will also prevent players from getting rung-up on pitches out of the zone like Kris Bryant and Paul Goldschmidt find themselves far too often.
These won’t be the only changes implemented in 2021, nor will it be the end of experimentation in Minor League Baseball by its older brother. But for now, every baseball fan should keep a close eye on how this season develops and what it means for the future of our national pastime.
Credit Major League Baseball and Hawk-Eye for some of the information provided.