Last week, MLB announced a 30-game schedule for the Arizona Fall League that will begin October 13. Rosters haven’t been announced yet, but as we are now just 17 days away from the start of the AFL season, I’d expect that announcement soon.
What has been announced, per Kyle Glaser of Baseball America, is that some of the experimental rules that have been tried out in various minor leagues this year will be used in AFL games:
Pitchers will be subject to a 15-second pitch clock and limited to two pickoff attempts per plate appearance; infielders will be required to remain in the dirt with two infielders on each side of second base; and the size of the bases will be increased.
The automated ball-strike system, which the AFL also experimented with in 2019, will also be used in games played at Salt River Fields.
Some of these rule changes would be good for MLB games (particularly the pitch clock, in my view). Others, including the “infielders on the dirt” change (essentially banning or at least modifying defensive shifts), I’d like to see in practice before I make a judgment.
I’ve always felt that the one thing MLB could do to speed up the pace of play would be to institute a pitch clock. The BA article says this absolutely did help that in one minor league in 2021:
The 15-second pitch clock was introduced in the Low-A West this season on June 15, roughly six weeks into the season. Nine-inning games prior to the introduction of the pitch clock lasted an average of 3 hours, 2 minutes. Nine-inning games in the league after the introduction of the pitch clock averaged 2:41, as The Athletic’s Jayson Stark first reported. The introduction of the pitch clock also corresponded with an increase in offense throughout the league.
Well. Those are both good things, no? A reduction in the length of the game AND an increase in offense? Pretty sure all of us would enjoy games like that. For those of you who subscribe to The Athletic, the Stark article linked above is a must-read with lots of detail on how the pitch clocks really worked well.
I am, at least for now, very much against banning or modifying shifts. I don’t think MLB managers should be told where they should position their defense. On the other hand, I’m tired of watching lefthanded batters (I’m looking at you, Jason Heyward) ground out over and over and over to a second baseman positioned halfway into right field.
So I’d like to at least see how that sort of thing is enforced. Can the fielders start moving when the pitch is delivered? From the BA article:
The rule governing the positioning of infielders in an attempt to limit shifting was introduced at Double-A this year. All four infielders were required to remain in the dirt for the first half of the season and two infielders were required to remain on either side of second base during the second half.
The rules resulted in no significant change in batted-ball outcomes at Double-A, according to Major League Baseball executive vice president of baseball operations Morgan Sword. Nonetheless, MLB will apply the rules in the AFL to gather additional data.
Only home games at Salt River Fields — so, just 15 games, the home games of the Salt River Rafters — will have the automated strike zone. That should still give MLB enough data to add to their information from minor leagues where it’s been used.
Thus it will be interesting to watch what happens in the AFL this year, as some or all of these changes will be coming to a MLB ballpark near you within the next few years.
Of the experimental rule changes mentioned here, which is the best?
This poll is closed
The pitch clock
Modifying defensive shifts
Automated strike zone
Don’t like any of them
Something else (leave in comments)