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.
- The Strike Zone
- The DH
- Home Run Celebrations
- Playoff Format
- 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.
A Look at the 2020 Reds
Taking a look at what the Cincinnati Reds roster may look like in 2020.
The 2019 version of the Cincinnati Reds was different from the past few years. New manager, new players, “rebuild” players finally getting called up. Unfortunately, the outcome was not that much different from years past. Players were moved at the deadline to help retool for the future. We all know this process far too well. Well, 2020 is the true start of “the future” of this organization. 2020 is the year they need to make the playoffs to keep the fanbase sane (according to my twitter feed). So, let’s dive in and see what this roster could look like.
This 2019 Reds roster will not likely produce 80 wins. Let’s get the facts out there. As of today (9/5/19) they are 65-75. Bringing back the same roster will not produce the same results. Plenty of players on the current roster are part of the future and some have yet to hit their prime.
Team needs/decisions for the offseason:
1) Bullpen help (especially adding a lefty)
2) Figure out the middle infield situation
3) 4th and 5th starters
4) The catcher situation
Let’s start with the pitching. What we know is Castillo, Gray, Bauer will be 3/5 of the starting rotation. I do not think Alex Wood will be brought back. Frankly, he can’t stay healthy. He pitched 30+ games each of the first three seasons in the league and reached that mark once in the past 6 seasons. His price tag will be too high for someone who’s honestly pitched “ok” this season. The 4/5 spots will be left open to DeSclafani, Mahle, Sims, (maybe) Gausman, or a free agent. I do not think many of the “prospects” will make the jump to make the team out of spring training. Vladimir Gutierrez is talented and had an up and down year in Louisville. Bringing back Gausman would be expensive and that money might be used elsewhere. Sims should get an extended look. He’s cheap, only 25, and shown he can strike out batters. DeSclafani has been good at times and a headache at times.
The bullpen needs stability. Players like Alaniz, Bowman, Herget, Mella, Peralta, Romano, Stephens, and Reed seem to be the most expendable. That’s not to say someone like Reed will build on this season to carry it over into next season which would be great. We all know a lefty would be appreciated. Right now, the pitching depth in the minors doesn’t seem to be ready for next season but a name to keep an eye on is Alex Powers. His 1.64 ERA this season and strong 2018 cannot go unnoticed. We all know Stephenson, Lorenzen, Garrett will be back. Iglesias is not as sure of a thing.
The catching situation could be the exact same as 2019. Barnhart and Casali have been, well, fine. But we all know management looked into trading for a catcher last offseason so I wouldn’t say either is a lock. Organizational depth is slim with Stephenson being the big prospect name and Reds legend Ryan Lavarnway released recently. (They are building his statue.)
The infield is a wild 2020 prediction. We know Votto at first and Suarez at third is a lock. Seems that Galvis will be back at either second or short. Iglesias will be due for a pay increase and his situation should be an article of its own. Mr. May, Derek Dietrich, offers similar versatility as VanMeter at a higher cost and less production. I’d say he’s elsewhere. Peraza and Blandino are not bad as backups but contending teams typically look for upgrades. I would expect at least Peraza gone. Do it all Kyle Farmer should be on the 2020 squad. I would not be surprised to see VanMeter as the second baseman next year or used in a utility role but getting near everyday at-bats.
The outfield is a bit easier to predict. We know Senzel will start in center while Aquino will be in right and Winker/Ervin will be on the roster. Aquino has been so much fun, but it would be absurd to think this pace keeps up. However, he has earned a starting spot in RF for 2020. Left might be some platoon of Winker and Ervin. Ervin against lefties, Winker against righties. O’Grady and prospect Jose Siri provide depth. Siri is fast as hell and plays top end defense so having him as a back up wouldn’t be a bad idea. He needs work with the bat so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Reds brought in a free agent for competition for a back up in spring training. Scott Schebler will be elsewhere. Although I think he still has MLB talent I think he needs a fresh start.
The “random” breakout players are always welcomed as well. O’Grady, VanMeter, and Aquino weren’t expected to be making contributions this season and look where they are.
A few names that could take a similar route:
Narciso Crook (Outfield)
Luis Gonzalez (Shortstop)
Chadwick Tromp (catcher)
Just to name a few from Louisville
Regardless of what is in hold for the long and cold offseason, 2019 has been fun. It was weird and also showed us a glimpse of what is to come.
Unappreciated Cincinnati Reds: Kyle Farmer
Numbers don’t tell the whole story when you look at Kyle Farmer. His value goes far beyond the box score.
On December 21st, 2018, the Dodgers and Reds made a splash in the offseason with a blockbuster deal. The Reds received aging all-star Matt Kemp, animated outfielder Yasiel Puig, lefty Alex Wood, and a versatile utility player named Kyle Farmer. While Kemp’s Reds career ended after 20 games and fan favorite (and now U.S. citizen) Puig’s career ended in a trade, Wood and Farmer very much could be part of the Reds future.
What Kyle Farmer brings to this team is far beyond the box score. David Bell has shown trust and confidence in Farmer and his ability to pinch-hit. Offensively Farmer has improved from his first two seasons in LA. Over two seasons with the Dodgers he only played in 59 games and had 88 at bats. A .250 hitter with no home runs his value might have seen minimal. Reds fans saw his value immediately in spring training when he would catch bullpens then play short and second. Due to injuries, he found himself on the 25-man roster to begin the season. Many thought he would be the first sent down but his pinch-hitting and versatility proved his value to be too high. Farmer has played first, second, third, catcher, and pitcher. I have to mention his pitching stat line: 1.1 innings 1 hit 0.00 ERA. Hell yeah. With Casali injured Farmer has stepped in as the team’s second catcher and Alex Wood’s “personal” catcher. As many of you all know Wood and Farmer have been teammates and friends for a long time. The familiarity they have only helps each other during the game. Farmer’s 7 home runs look good, but his other numbers could use some work. .248/.288/.438 and 45 K’s to only 5 BB are not great. Improving on the walk to K ratio would go along way for his development. If you watched the Cubs series, you saw a few great plays he made at second. He is no Jose Iglesias, but he can hold his own.
How does Farmer play into the Reds future? Well, it’s no secret that the catching depth is not the Reds strength. Tucker is under contract but Casali is on a one-year deal, with arbitration left. In the minors, Tyler Stephenson looks promising but after that it’s slim. Questions on where Jose Iglesias (if resigned), Galvis, Peraza, VanMeter, Dietrich, and even Blandino will get playing time could limit Farmer’s time at second base. Votto will get plenty of off days next season and Farmer could pick up at-bats at first. Dietrich, if brought back, might get the at bats against right handers. What if Alex Wood is resigned? You could keep Farmer as a pinch hitter/late game sub and have him catch Wood every fifth game. His ability to catch opens opportunities for Bell to pinch hit his backup catcher (Casali) and not worry about a “what if” situation when they need a catcher in late innings/extras.
While there are plenty of unknowns about this team as the offseason approaches, we do know that David Bell values versatility and Farmer brings just that. Maybe knowing that he really does deserve to be in the big leagues will help his confidence going into the offseason. Either way, he’s a fun player to watch and adds value to this Reds club.
Here’s a couple of home runs for you:
Series Recap: Chicago Cubs
Here’s what we learned about the Reds, moving forward in 2019, after the weekend against the Cubs.
The Reds split a series with the Chicago Cubs in August and the fans feel upset. As strange as it might sound, that’s a good sign. In recent years I would be excited about splitting with the Cubs in August. The upset feeling shows this team is different. Expectations have changed. What we saw over the past four games leads fans to believe the future is bright.
The buzz across Reds twitter Thursday was refreshing to see. Fans were more engaged and thrilled to see the Reds welcome the first place Cubs to town for a four-game tilt.
Well, the first game was not a good start. Wood had a rough start going only three innings, Gausman made his debut, Sims showed a strong outing and David Hernandez did much of what he has been doing all season; disappointing fans. Hernandez, like many announcers have said after a pitch he’s thrown, “He’s gone”. We did see Phillip Ervin deliver a 4-hit night, Aquino continues to catch everyone’s attention, and Kyle Farmer displays his versatility by pitching 1.1 innings surrendering one lone hit and throwing slightly slower than Aroldis Chapman.
Friday was a different story. Trevor Bauer gave up a homer to new Cub and new Reds killer Nicholas Castellanos then was smooth sailing as he went 7 innings. The Reds collected 6 hits with no one having more than 1 but it was enough to show they wouldn’t go away easily.
Was Saturday the best Reds game this year? If seeing Cubs fans mad ranks high on your list than it might have been. Everyone besides Sal Romano had a hit and Aquino is now *checks notes for confirmation* the best player to ever play the game. His three homers and going back to back with Senzel gave us a glimpse into the future. Sonny Gray’s 2 hits allowed matched his 2 RBI he had at the plate. Sal Romano earned the rare 3 out save and Brian O’Grady had his first big league hit. The Reds won and momentum for Sunday was at a level we haven’t seen this season.
Having the Ace on the mound was not enough to earn the win Sunday. Castilo went 6.2 innings with 3 ER but Michael Lorenzen could not get an out. Bryant’s homer gave the Cubs the lead and they didn’t look back. A disappointing and frustrating loss to say the least. Jeff Carr said it best: “This is kinda where the Reds are in 2019. They are fun, they are interesting, they are entertaining…they are not a playoff team.”
What we learned from this series:
– Aquino is not only fun to watch but he is a legit piece for the future
– Sal Romano and Lucas Sims will get a chance to show how they can play into 2020
– Ian Happ and Nickolas Castellanos are banned for the City of Cincinnati (waiting on confirmation)
– Kyle Farmer had some great defensive plays and is very important to this team (Farmer article coming soon)
– Angel Hernandez should be embarrassed
– The Reds missed an opportunity to climb the standing but didn’t completely fall out
All in all, it was a fun series and seeing the fanbase this interested and invested in August is refreshing. Still plenty to learn about this roster and what it could look like next year. Let’s see if the Punisher can hit one to the White House.