Rick White has been president of the Atlantic League, an independent professional baseball league, for more than five years and has already seen Major League Baseball adopt one major rule from his league. Now, MLB is looking to do the same thing with a few other potential rules.
Before the 2017 season began, MLB announced changes to the way an intentional walk would occur. Previously, a pitcher would have to throw four balls before the batter would go to first base. But under the current rules, the manager just needs to tell the plate umpire that the team wants to intentionally walk the batter and the batter automatically gets first base.
The intentional walk rule had been in place in the Atlantic League for two seasons before MLB decided to adopt it and add it to its own rule book. The MLB will again attempt to do something similar in a partnership with the Atlantic League this upcoming season.
"We indeed have signed a joint partnership agreement, which provides the opportunity for Major League Baseball to test rules and equipment initiatives over the next three Atlantic League seasons," White said on T
he Bat Around with Stan "The Fan" Charles
March 2. "Those initiatives are highly considered, they've been thoroughly vetted and researched and Major League Baseball was looking for the appropriate level and skill of ballplayers over the course of a full season, as opposed to a short season, to vet those ideas."
While White was not yet able to discuss exactly which rules could be put into place in the Atlantic League this upcoming season, he did say the league will be able to release in the coming days a list of initiatives that are going to be put into effect. Electronic strike zones
will be one of them
, according to
TrackMan radar technology, which is being installed in each Atlantic League ballpark as part of the MLB partnership, would call balls and strikes instead of an umpire. White recognizes that "for every umpire there is a different strike zone," and that consistency is the main problem. The Atlantic League is attempting to find a way to create a fairer field of play.
When trying to construct an electronic strike zone, the issue is less about the width of the strike zone than the height. White cited the strike zones of Houston Astros 5-foot-6 star Jose Altuve and New York Yankees 6-foot-7 slugger Aaron Judge as examples because of their vastly different strike zones.
"We would be very interested in deploying that and for our own purposes testing that," White said.
Fixing the inconsistencies of the strike zone could have a positive impact for everybody in the game of baseball, according to White.
"If we ever could get to the point where we had electronic balls and strikes, it's good for everybody. It's good for pitchers because there's predictability, it's good for hitters for the same reason," White explained. "It moves the game along because you remove some of the arguing, but you also have players who are now going to be swinging the bat, putting more balls in play, as opposed to taking advantage of a subjective ball-strike zone."
The new intentional walk rule was a controversial addition to the game in 2017, but White and the rest of the Atlantic League's board were happy to see MLB adopt the rule and show more interest in doing the same with other rules in years to come.
"We were very proud that Major League Baseball adopted our intentional base on balls rule," White said. "We think that we can be at the front end of constructive change with the game and not necessarily change the fundamentals, but provide fans a better experience."
For more from White, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox