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Fixing the MLB: A Blueprint for a Modern Commissioner

Supposing Major League Baseball were looking to make a change at commissioner, Mike Mardis has five ideas how to better the game.

Mike Mardis

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© Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to my hypothetical campaign to be the next commissioner of Major League Baseball. What follows are 5 proposed rule changes that will provide a bright future for the sport we all love so much.

  1. The Strike Zone
  2. The DH
  3. Home Run Celebrations
  4. Playoff Format
  5. Rookie Contracts

It’s time to bring baseball into the modern era. Technology will help us along the way, but fairness and fun will anchor our vision for the future.

1. Implement a Digital Strike Zone

I follow a frustratingly amazing Twitter account called @UmpireAuditor. The account highlights particularly egregious calls by measuring how far out of the strike zone a called strike was based on the digital overlay of the zone we see during games now. The pinned tweet on the feed of that account makes the argument for a digital strike zone very well.

Fairness is one of our foundational anchors. This is a move to make the game more fair. Here’s how:

The strike zone is very clearly defined in the MLB rule book as:

“that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.”

The vanguards of the unwritten rules of baseball will argue that the human element provided by each umpire’s unique interpretation of the strike zone on any given day is invaluable to the sport. It’s the way it’s always been and it makes the game better somehow.

My response is that there is no mention in the rule book of “umpire discretion” when it comes to the boundaries of the strike zone. It is unambiguous.

The new digital strike zone would be the same width for every batter (the width of home plate) while being adjustable for the height of the batter. The technology exists now for AI to map a skeleton, mathematically determine the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the belt of each batter to set the top of the strike zone, and identify the knees for the bottom.

How this would work practically is as follows. Every stadium would be required to have a strike zone screen visible from home plate. This could simply be a live feed from the center field camera with a digital strike zone overlay. This way the umpire could simply glance up at the screen after each pitch to see if it touched the strike zone. We could even make it so if the outline of the ball intersects the strike zone, the box on the screen fills with a color or the word “STRIKE” for all to see.

Home plate umpires will still be needed for all other duties (fair/foul balls, plays at the plate, appeals, etc.) and for the inevitable weird outcomes baseball produces. For example, a pitcher might throw a 58 ft. curve ball that ends up bouncing through the strike zone. A human umpire would know to call that a ball while a digital strike zone might not be able to determine if the ball bounced prior to crossing the plate.

Imagine never having to watch a whiney player, manager, or fan argue and pout over getting “jobbed” by the umpire. And never seeing this stuff again:

2. Expand the DH to the NL

You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. The American League introduced the Designated Hitter in 1973 in an effort to increase fan interest by increasing the amount of runs scored. While the National League doesn’t suffer a dearth of run production today sans the DH, the AL is not getting rid of it.

While it can’t be completely contributed to the DH, the AL has a statistically significant advantage in interleague play. Since being introduced in 1997, the AL holds the overall record advantage (3,032-2,732) and has won the season matchup in 15 of the 20 seasons of interleague play to date.

Because overall record dictates playoff positioning, it’s only fair that the playing field between the leagues is even. So, in addition to expanding the DH, I’m also proposing an additional roster spot so NL teams can transition to the DH with minimal impact on how they’ve built the current roster.

Spoiler: I’m proposing a change to rookie contracts that will encourage managers to fill this extra roster spot with their best young hitters. Check it out below.

This adds a new level of managerial decisions for the club – something the opponents of the DH say is missing in the AL where managers never have to pull a pitcher who is dealing in fifth or sixth inning for a DH because the offense is struggling that day. Those decisions won’t exist with a league-wide DH. The trade-off being that managers now have to decide if they want to fill their extra roster spot with a high priced free agent DH, pitching help, or a young slugger in their farm system. Teams that can’t afford to throw huge contracts at free agents now have options and fans a new debate topic.

3. Install a Celebration Clock

There are currently two kinds of MLB fans when it comest to players celebrating home runs: people who think it ads excitement and flare to an otherwise relatively boring game to watch for most people and people who are wrong. The people who are wrong are not attempting to improve the appeal of or interest in the sport. They are simply asking everyone else to adhere to their set of morally ambiguous unwritten rules that were cultivated over a long (and far too often racist) history of professional baseball. This has no place in the MLB under Commissioner Mardis.

However, celebrations need restraints like everything else in sports. So, I’m proposing a 30-second clock for celebrating your home run. Once the baseball hits the outfield seats for a home run, the batter has 30 seconds to round the bases and celebrate any way he likes. There would be caveats around props and the like. But if you want to flip your bat, go pick it up and flip it again, then do a cartwheel – as long as you cross home plate and are clear of the field of play within 30 second – go for it.

Pitchers who retaliate for this will be ejected upon the judgement of the umpire. The retaliation does not need to hit the batter. Throwing a 100 mph fastball at someone’s head from 60 feet away would be attempted murder anywhere outside of a baseball stadium. So it’s enough to get you kicked out of a game.

Give me more of this….

This. Will. Make. The. Game. So. Much. More. Fun.

4. Fixing the MLB Playoffs

The playoffs seedings and home field will be completely based on regular season records. This is why it’s important to level the playing field in regards to the DH – one league shouldn’t have an advantage in interleague play.

Here’s how the playoffs will work:

The 5 teams from each League to make the playoffs will be re-seeded for the playoff bracket. The 2 worst records from each league play in the one-game wildcard. If a Division Champion plays in the Wild Card game, they get home field advantage regardless of record. If two Division Champions play in the Wild Card game, home field advantage goes to the team holding the better record. Regular season records determine home field advantage through the rest of the playoffs.

This format makes it imperative for all teams to compete to win every game of the season. Even if you’ve clinched your division, you may have to play in the Wild Card game if your record isn’t better than three of the other playoff teams in your league.

The rule also means that a team that doesn’t win their division, but has the second or third best record in their league, will not have to play in the Wild Card game simply because they didn’t win their division. Why punish a team that won 100 games in the regular season by making them play an elimination game against a team that won 85 games that season? I won’t.

Case in point, here’s the 2018 playoff bracket:

In the new format, based on their regular season records, the Yankees would have been the 3-seed and Cleveland would have played in the Wild Card game instead. Same thing with the Cubs – moving the Braves into the Wild Card game.

This makes the playoff structure more fair. It still rewards Division Champions while encouraging every team in the playoff race to win as many regular season games as possible right up to the last day of the season.

5. Rookie Contracts Based on Player Age, Not Service Time

The way rookie contracts are structured now, players who sign them are giving exclusive rights to the team until he accrues six years of MLB service time. Until then, he can only seek contracts from the team that signed him originally. MLB rules define a full season of play as spending at least 172 days of the 187-day season on the MLB roster. The issue here becomes teams that monitor those days spent on the MLB roster and send players to Triple-A just before the 172-day mark so it doesn’t count as a full season played at that level. Thus extending the time they have control over the player.

This dynamic leads to fanbases being deprived of potential superstar young players helping teams reach their full potential (e.g. Nick Senzel, Vlad Guerrero Jr., Kris Bryant, etc.)

My solution is to use player age to structure rookie deals and remove the service time rules that dictate free agency eligibility. The rule is simple: A rookie contract can be no longer than six years and must end by the season the player turns 26.

Under this rule, an 18-year-old player could sign a six-year deal that would end when he’s 24 years old, at which time he could seek free agent contracts. This would give the team who signed him incentive to develop him and get him to the MLB as soon as possible to take advantage of the cheap contract. Fans would get to see the best young players at the big league level and the young players would be more willing to sign long-term deals prior to hitting free agency knowing the team is building around them.

On the flip side, a college Senior who signs a rookie contract at 22 years old can only be signed for four years on a rookie deal. This makes sense as players who developed for four years in college should be ready to play at the MLB level much sooner than younger players who have not.

Also, let’s be honest, if a team doesn’t know if a player is worth a long-term deal by the time he’s 26, it’s time to let him explore other teams/options.

This set-up ensures players are not handcuffed by their rookie deals or late development. It also incentivizes front offices to call these players up when they’re big-league ready instead of manipulating service time to ensure an extra year of control. Major League Baseball teams are massive companies with contract experts and attorneys at their disposal. Placing strict protections for young players trying to negotiate their professional career is in everyone’s best interest.

Let me know what you think about my platform to become the next MLB Commissioner in the comments below.

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Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds Alternate Site Game: April 6, 2021

The Cincinnati Reds are currently playing some games with their alternate team against other alternate teams. Clay Snowden had a chance to attend one and gives a report.

Clay Snowden

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78 degrees with a few clouds in the sky was the perfect day for the perfect game of baseball. My first in person game since 2019. I never knew just how much I missed it until I experienced the sights of sounds of the game for what felt like the very first time (again). Enough about me, let’s talk about the game. The alternate site Reds (that’s what we will call them) took on the Royals on Tuesday night. I want to provide a recap of the pitching and hitting while highlighting a few players.

 

Pitchers:

Riley O’Brien started for the Reds. Acquired in the Cody Reed trade, O’Brien is an interesting pitcher with some obvious upside. He has a lot to like but can struggle to find the zone at times. He struck out Bobby Witt Jr (One of MLB top prospects) while causing him to whiff on back to back strikes. He also gave up 2 home runs, 4 hits 4 runs in 3 innings while striking out 5. At times he simply over powered hitters and at times they squared him up. I still like him as a possible bullpen guy at some point.

Claiborne Snowden on Twitter: “Riley O’Brien (@RileyyOBrienn ) striking out one of the best prospects in all of baseball Bobby Witt #Reds https://t.co/YVQOpuIKby” / Twitter

Brandon Finnegan, who came out of nowhere this spring and impressed, looked pretty solid tonight. Struck a guy out looking while allowing 1 hit in one inning. His breaking stuff had some life on it. Doolittle, Perez, and Garrett will make it tough for him to find innings, but if injuries happen he’s more than capable of filling in. What a great story his comeback is.

Finnegan was followed by uneventful innings from R.J. Alaniz, Edgar Garcia, Hector Perez, and Ryan Hendrix. Garcia was hit hard and hit often. Perez has a fastball that is noticeably faster than others, but the radar gun was not on. Hendrix really pops the catchers glove, but location was an issue.

Claiborne Snowden on Twitter: “Finnegan (thread) https://t.co/a8pYMq0JuI” / Twitter

Batters:

Mike Freeman, a utility infielder brought over from the Indians, provided the only real offense tonight with a home run off a LHP (Lynch) to right center. In my mind him, Blandino, and Schrock all are battling for the same “utility infielder” position. Schrock was quiet at the plate tonight.

Mark Payton had a decent night at the plate. I really like his eye for the strike zone and patience at the plate. He had a strong single up the middle and worked a count full on another at bat. He had a ton of balls hit to him in center and he covered a lot of territory well. One ball he tried to rob a HR and it hit off of him and went over the wall. From my vantage point it looked like he might have helped that ball go over.

Jose Garcia made solid contact in his two balls put into play. I am far from a swing expert, but his swing looked a little off tonight. Maybe a little slow? I don’t know. He also swung and missed several times. A full year in the minors will do him well.

Claiborne Snowden on Twitter: “@TooKold2 https://t.co/YJgnyWHl7Q” / Twitter

The last player that caught my eye was Alejo Lopez. The 24 year old switch hitting infielder just knows how to hit. He has logged over 1,000 minor league at bats and has a slash of .297/.367/.746. In his two at bats he made great contact one leading to a single up the middle and one a sharp lineout to end the game.

Claiborne Snowden on Twitter: “Alejo Lopez single. A player who isn’t listed as a super high prospect but has been producing https://t.co/FydDrk2kjd” / Twitter

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Cincinnati Reds

Eugenio Suarez at Shortstop Makes the Cincinnati Reds Very Interesting

The Cincinnati Reds have announced that Eugenio Suarez will start Tuesday’s game at shortstop which opens up so many possibilities that make the Reds lineup dangerous.

Jeff

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The Cincinnati Reds dropped a Geno-sized bomb on Reds Country and the result is mass excitement.

We are all aware of the swings-and-misses with free agent shortstops the Reds front office had this offseason. In fact they struck out, if you’re counting, as there were three bonafide shortstops who all went elsewhere. So we’ve spent all Spring Training squinting our eyes to see if we could maybe see the fringe possibility of someone on this roster playing shortstop. Then the Reds stopped pretending.

Coming into camp, Eugenio Suarez just looked different. He was way more fit, trim, cut, whatever word for in-shape you want to use. You could say he was in the best shape of his life (many have). Geno planned for this, and management noticed. They’re reportedly been giving him more practice reps at shortstop and getting him comfortable fielding back there again. You don’t do that just for kicks, they were on to something.

Then Jose Garcia showed a continued lack of confidence at the plate, Dee Strange-Gordon proved there was a reason he hasn’t played shortstop, exclusively, in eight years, and Kyle Holder showed some skills but ultimately proved he needs more seasoning. Kyle Farmer has shown promise at the plate but the defense isn’t any sort of revolutionary development and he still shows more value as the do-everything guy off the bench. Insert Suarez.

Immediately some of you are thinking “Isn’t there a reason they moved him away from shortstop in the first place?” You could go that route, but let me answer your question with a question “Is there really a good reason to keep Jonathan India, or dare I say Nick Senzel (when Shogo Aliyama is healthy) out of the starting lineup for Kyle Farmer, or any of the other options they’ve tried at shortstop?”

This is the Reds thinking outside the box! This opens up so many possibilities with the lineup. With injuries, this is what the Opening Day lineup could look like:

CF Nick Senzel
LF Jesse Winker
SS Eugenio Suarez
3B Mike Moustakas
RF Nicholas Castellanos
2B Jonathan India
C Tyler Stephenson
1B Tucker Barnhart
Pitcher

I like that lineup. Now, there’s more than a chance that someone else plays first base and Tucker is the catcher on Opening Day, but this is the optimal lineup with Joey Votto on the COVID shelf. Once he is back, this lineup just looks dangerous:

CF Nick Senzel
LF Jesse Winker
SS Eugenio Suarez
3B Mike Moustakas
RF Nicholas Castellanos
1B Joey Votto
2B Jonathan India
C Tyler Stephenson
Pitcher

Here’s hoping the Eugenio Shortstop experience lots all year long!

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Cincinnati Reds

Monday Morning Manager: The Cincinnati Reds and Things Being What They Are

David Bell has too many outfielders, or does he? An injury to Shogo Akiyama could make lineup decisions easier, but could hurt the overall team potential.

Jeff

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Today on the Monday Not-Morning Manager I want to look at how the chips fall. There’s a line of thinking in sports that pertains to rosters. If you’ve got four players for three spots and it’s hard to differentiate between them, something always works out. Something beyond the making of a lineup card happens that makes making the lineup card slightly easier (so far as filling the three spots). One wonders if this is what has happened with centerfield for the Cincinnati Reds. 

Shogo Akiyama had an encouraging September, last year. He got on base roughly 46% of the time and became the leadoff hitter that Reds fans felt he’d be when he signed. He showed his prowess in the outfield and sound fundamentals that lead you to believe he can be a defensive asset. He looked to be showing he could bring value to the lineup. 

Nick Senzel has had a heck of a Spring. Hitting the ball all over the field, taking what the pitcher gives him, and making solid, powerful contact. He’s overcome some early spring mishaps on defense and is back to his athletic range in centerfield. When healthy he has shown to be an asset for the team. Barring some creative decision-making on the part of David Bell, he’s going to play in the outfield, come he’ll or high water. 

So what then? Shogo and Senzel cannot both start of Nicholas Castellanos and Jesse Winker man the corners. How does David Bell figure this out? That may be taken off his plate. 

Today (Monday) Shogo is getting his left hamstring examined. He left Saturday’s game after just one at-bat. If he is to miss any amount of time, the decision who the Opening Day centerfielder will be will be easy, but this isn’t a statement of relief. The best version of the Cincinnati Reds lineup includes all of Shogo, Senzel, Castellanos, and Winker and you’ll have a hard time convincing me otherwise. I want Bell and the Reds managerial staff to find ways to get all four of them in the lineup as much as possible. Hopefully, Shogo is fine and Bell will begin the 2021 with too many players rather than too few.

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