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.
Locked On Reds Mailbag
You’ve got Reds questions and Clay Snowden has Reds answers!
What do you think Tyler Stephenson? What do you think of the future of the catching position looks like? (@transredsfan)
Stephenson is one of my favorite prospects. Good offensive catchers are hard to come by. Since struggling earlier in his career with injuries, Stephenson has put together strong offensive years. I would bet he is the 2020 Opening Day starter if all goes as planned. Behind him, the Reds are slim in organizational depth. 2016 second round pick Chris Okey has struggled at every level. Barnhart and Casali are both pretty good options, but I do not see either being a long term answer.
Which non 40-man roster player will have a big spring? (@JoeFain5)
A spot or two is up for grabs on the roster, especially in the pen. Lodolo will be impressive, but I think he will start in the minor regardless of performance. I have always liked Alex Powers and he is ready to contribute. Matt Davidson has the pop, but he plays a position that is crowded. Christian Colon could earn a backup SS role. He had a great spring in 2019 and an impressive year at AAA Louisville.
Outfielders most likely to be on the roster Opening Day? Starting Lineup? (@ChrisSchloemer)
As I was answering this the Reds signed Nicholas Castellanos. This throws a huge wrench into projecting the OF due to having too many options. Someone will be traded and Senzel has the most value.
C – Barnhart
1B – Votto
2B – Moustakas
SS- Glavis (most likely someone different via trade of an OF)
3B – Suarez
LF – Winker
CF – Senzel/ Akiyama depending on trades
RF – Castellanos
What throwback uniforms will the Reds wear this season? (@William46676045)
Last season the Reds wore throwbacks to celebrate 150 years of Reds baseball. It was awesome, too. The 1976, 1967, and 1999 were my favorite. The 1902, 1911, and 1936 I could do without. I’d like to see the Reds wear all of them again, but I would imagine we could see some of the player’s favorites. The collared jerseys were not the favorite amongst players.
Win projection if the Reds sign Castellanos? (@OdetoRedsWS)
Well, they did sign him. A big bat will be added to the middle of the order. What that means for the other 45 outfielders on the roster….who knows. I would think this adds at least 2 wins to the Reds in 2020.
If you could use one statistic as a measure for a player’s ability which would you use and why? (@soffenbaker)
People love and hate some stats. Some loved Iglesias’ 2 strike average. I didn’t really care about it. For hitters, I like OBP because I think getting on base leads to run production. Overall, I like WAR (wins above replacement). I know many do not like it, but it gives a value that most fans can pin to a player when comparing him to others. Good players will have bad stats, but no good player will have a bad WAR.
Who do you go get now? (Jamlung429)
The weakest position is short. Most of the top SS would cost a lot. But, considering the crowded outfield and that the Reds haven’t traded any prospects this offseason, go get that final piece. Senzel, prospect(s) and get a top 5 SS. Who that will be is tough to predict. I like Bogaerts but the Red Sox might not want to trade him.
Reds are All In
Whether or not the moves made pan out in a few months, there can be no doubt that the Reds are all in to win.
It was quietly mandated by the fanbase that the Reds go “ALL IN” this year. It started last year the night before the trade deadline. I wrote an article saying to trust the front office after the Reds traded away Yasiel Puig and Taylor Trammell for Trevor Bauer which at the time didn’t seem great on the surface. Since that trade for Bauer, Dick Williams and Nick Krall have been busy.
The middle infield was the glaring need of this team. First big splash this offseason was Mike Moustakas for 4 yrs/$64million. While the Reds will have him playing second base, he was considered the best free agent available at that position this offseason. Moose posted a 3.2 WAR (Baseball Reference), wRC+ 113 (Fangraphs), and OPS+ 114 (Baseball Reference) for the 2019 season while making the All Star team. Much welcomed stats for a team that struggled mightily to bring in runs last year.
Their next big splash shored up there starting rotation as the best in the NL Central, and one of the best in the MLB, with the signing of Wade Miley for 2yrs/$15 Million. Miley provided the Astros with 167.1 innings, 116 ERA+, and 4.51 FIP in 2019 according to Baseball Reference. I might add Miley will be reunited with Derek Johnson who he played under for the Brewers in 2018. In 2018 Miley provided the Brewers a 159 ERA+ and 3.59 FIP in a half year of work. This means the Reds starting rotation would consist of Gray, Castillo, Bauer, Disco and Miley. A projected 20.2 fWAR as a starting rotation ranking fourth in the National League. We have all seen what Johnson was able to do with Gray and Castillo last season. Will Miley be the next chapter of Johnson’s miracle work once they are reunited? More insane is the complete 180 the pitching staff has become in just one year. If Miley had signed in 2017 or 2018 there’s a real chance he might have been the Opening Day starter. Now he’s the 4th or 5th guy in a loaded starting rotation.
Finally, we come to the most recent signing in Shogo Akiyama for 3 yrs/$21 million. Shogo was the top free agent from Japan sought after by many clubs, including the Cubs. Playing at the highest level of Japanese baseball Shogo slashed .302/.392/.471 in 2019. For the most part his OBP has stayed around the .390 mark in recent years. OBP is probably one of the best stats that carries over from Japanese baseball which is promising for the Reds. Per the Reds front office they seem him as being able to play anywhere in the outfield as well. Probably the biggest concern with Shogo is that he is already 31 years old. Hopefully the Reds can get some amazing value out of this deal with Shogo in his prime.
This totals over $100 million spent, already, through free agency this season for the Reds. Our closest competition ranks among the lowest spending in free agency this offseason. The Cubs and Pirates have committed NOTHING in serious free agency contracts. The Cubs are looking to dump payroll and possibly trade Kris Bryant. The Pirates are a proverbial dumpster fire in rebuild mode. The Cardinals have their fan base banking on a trade for Arenado to be there savior this season. That won’t come cheap since Arenado is one of the elite third basemen in the league. Not to mention he is owed roughly $234 million through 2026. The Brewers have now lost Moustakas, Grandal, Thames, or 13 of the 25 players on their 2019 playoff roster. The Reds are absolutely seizing the day when it comes to taking advantage of the economic situation the rest of the division is in.
Many believe the biggest surprises are yet to come. Freddy Galvis is the projected starting shortstop for the Reds as of right now. In my personal opinion that is unacceptable with the current roster. Dick Williams addressed this issue a few weeks ago when he was on with Lance McAlister. He stated their openness to possibly moving Senzel, Suarez, or a potential player acquired through trade to that position. Any hopes of getting Lindor Correa or Story through trade have cooled in recent weeks. The Reds have been attached to Corey Seager, superstar shortstop with the Dodgers in trade rumors. Seager could come at a steal of a price for a player who has posted 4 WAR in his three full seasons and two years of contract control. There is a lot of history of the two teams trading, as well. Adding even more fuel to the fire is that the Reds are still attached to possibly signing Nicholas Castellanos to an already overcrowded outfield with Senzel, Winker, Aquino, Shogo, and Ervin. Castellanos has expressed interest in being a part of a team going after a championship, being a leader in the clubhouse, and in recent years he’s been hitting his stride. For the past two seasons he’s had an OPS+ greater than 120 and just shy of a 3 WAR according to Baseball Reference. At the very least the Reds could sign him to an Ozuna-like deal for one year overpriced. You sacrifice none of your prospect capital if this is the only move till Opening Day. Something the Reds have been pretty damn good at in recent years all things considered.
If they they are able to make one of these moves before Opening Day your probably looking at a 90 win team. I feel like if the Reds could somehow pull off a trade for Seager and signing Castellanos it would be hard to argue that they didn’t go “All In” this offseason. They would be the clear cut front runner to win the NL Central and hopefully a serious playoff run. If so that would keep Dick Williams promise for a record Opening Day payroll.
What I found more newsworthy is that Dick Williams said, at a recent stop on the Reds Caravan that his objective this season was a World Series championship. I’m not going to try and argue that this team is a serious contender for the World Series. I would be lying to you if I did. Personally, I think the team as currently constructed will go 85-77. I think their ceiling is NL Central champions and there floor is 81 wins. However, if Dick Williams and Nick Krall, who have been honest with their promises to the fan base so far, can truly go “All In” we should see something in the near future that make our beloved Redlegs something to talk about all season.
Bounce Back and a Breakout: Bullpen
Here are a few guys to keep an eye on, in the bullpen, as we near pitchers and catchers reporting.
2019 didn’t go as well as fans had hoped. Starting pitching was great, but the bullpen was not. Wandy Peralta, Zach Duke, David Hernandez, Jared Hughes, Kevin Gausman, and others are gone. How the bullpen will shake out is yet to be known, but I wanted to highlight a breakout and bounce back candidate.
Bounce Back: Raisel Iglesias
Honorable mention: Sal Romano
Since transitioning from a starter to a closer, Iglesias has been a hell of a pitcher. 2016 169 ERA+ 2017 181 ERA+ 2018 176 ERA+ 2019….109 ERA+. Iglesias had an ERA of 2.53 or lower from 2016-2018 but it ballooned to 4.16 in 2019. 2019 saw a new career high in saves, 34, while also setting a career high in losses, 12, up from his previous high of 7. Iglesias was disgruntled with his role while fans were upset with his play leading to trade rumors. 2020 is a new year and I think Iglesias will have a major bounce back.
We have all seen the talent. There’s no question if he has the stuff. For whatever reason, relievers seem to have on and off years (Looking at you Hughes and Hernandez). Iglesias threw his sinker only 10% of the time last season, which is the lowest of his career. He’s thrown it as much as 40% (2015) and his previous low was 22.6% (2017). Getting back to the sinker could help Iglesias improve in 2020.
Iglesias’ “advanced” analytics look great in the above graphic (thanks baseball savant). Spin rates have never been talked about more and Iglesias still looks good in that department. There’s simply too much talent in his arm to have another pedestrian season.
Prediction from Baseball Reference: 3.82 ERA 20 saves 1.227 WHIP.
Breakout: Joel Kuhnel
Honorable Mention: Jose De Leon
2019 saw a #66 steal the hearts of Cincinnati and now a different #66 will do the same. 6’5” 260 isn’t quiet Jumbo Diaz size but Kuhnel stands out, and so does his fastball. Topping out at 99 MPH Kuhnel has the stuff to blow past hitters. Bullpen arms don’t need several pitches if the two you throw, you throw well. His fastball slider combo could lead to plenty of strikeouts. The bullpen is starving for another reliable arm and Kuhnel will have every chance to earn a role. When I watch him pitch it reminds me of Bobby Jenks, now let’s hope he can pitch as well as Jenks. Still only 24 years old, as Sinatra once said the best is yet to come.
Prediction from Baseball Reference: 4.50 ERA 1.300 WHIP
Here’s a video of some heat: