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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.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Marc

    July 21, 2019 at 10:00 am

    Sorry Charlie,
    The only 1 of these I agree to is the digital strike zone.
    The rest are really bad ideas.
    The celebration clock, what if it takes longer, eject the guy?
    the DH should be banned, it started the ruining of baseball.
    Do not need to change the playoffs they are good.

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Cincinnati Reds

Reds Mailbag: 7/08/2020

Let’s brush up on a few burning questions before the season gets going

Clay Snowden

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BASEBALL IS BACK. The 2020 Reds will finally get to see the field. Sure, it will be totally different than we expected, but I’ll take it. Let’s jump into some mailbag questions.

Who will end up being the Reds MVP?

I think you have to go pitcher here. Pitching will be crucial in a shortened season, so let’s go with Luis Castillo. We all know he has the stuff of a true ACE. However, someone like Bauer/another starter playing at an MVP level would be a bigger impact to add to Gray and Castillo. Offensive MVP = Castellanos.

Will the Reds make the NLCS?

Yes. I think the Reds are set up well for a 60 game season. As many have said, the team that remains the heathiest has a huge leg up. The Reds have the starting pitching to have a chance to win each day. The offense should be there as well. Staying healthy is the most important thing to success this season.

Who will the 4 extra players be on the 30 man?

Injuries and illness could cause roster changes, but as of today: Nate Jones, Mark Payton, Tejay Antone, Alex Blandino.

I could be seeing some as locks or part of the “26” that others might see as bubble. Payton must be kept on because of the rule 5 pick or sent back to Oakland, and he shows enough talent. Blandino is the best option as a back up short (defensively) that’s had MLB experience. Jones is great when healthy, and you can’t have too many good arms in the pen. Antone is a guy I have been high on, and his increased velo stands out. He’s a back of the end rotation/Long relief guy.

Will Castellanos play for the Reds past this season?

Yes. Owners are likely to be cheap this offseason. Going into the free agent market hoping to make more than the Reds are set to pay him could be tough. I think Castellanos will love playing in GABP. This ballpark gives him an opportunity to put up big offensive numbers. I expect him to have a huge season.

Any chance Jose Garcia is on the Opening Day roster?

It would take a major injury to Galvis. Even then, I am not sure he would. He is the best pure SS of the back up options, but he hasn’t played above AA. I think if Galvis went down, the Reds might do it. But if Galvis just needs a couple of days off, Blandino/Farmer/”other” could step in.
Don’t get me wrong, I cannot wait to see Garcia take over the everyday SS at bats, but only once they feel he is ready. Who knows, a trade could still happen.

If the Reds win the WS do you think everyone will give it the same respect as a normal season?

Why not? It might even be more difficult to win this year than any other. Strategy will play a larger roll this year than any other. Managers will have to show what they are worth. Someone has to win the World Series this year, might as well be the Reds.

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Cincinnati Reds

Remembering Reds: Corky Miller

Among the Reds’ fan favorites is a man not known for his statistical achievements, but for simply how awesome he was.

Clay Snowden

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Morgan, Bench, Robinson, Larkin, and Miller. All names that Reds fans recog…wait, Miller? As in Corky Miller? Absolutely. Corky Miller, the minor league catcher with 539 career MLB at bats. The Miller that holds a career .193/.277/.306 53 OPS+ and a 0.0 WAR, yet everyone knows his name. And adores him. His stats won’t jump off the page, but his laid back attitude and fu Manchu leave a mark on your memory.
Signed by the Reds in 1998, Miller did not reach the show until 2001. In his 11 year career spanning from 2001-2013 (didn’t appear in 2011/2012) Miller never played more than 39 games in one season. So how did he become a household name? Well, probably because he looks more like your fun uncle than your favorite team’s catcher. Now don’t get me wrong, Corky brought value to the teams he was on. He was as much as a coach/mentor as he was a ballplayer. You will still find him in the Reds organization helping the young catchers develop. Let’s take a look at some of Corky’s highlights.

Corky steals home

https://m.facebook.com/watch/?v=1802290979915796

When you think about baseball players stealing home you might immediately think about the great Jackie Robinson sliding in against the Yankees as Yogi Berra losses his mind at the “safe” call. Hell, you might even think about Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez pulling off the impossible feat in the last scene of the Sandlot. Well, Corky Miller joined this elite group on September 27th, 2001. As Omar Daal of the Phillies threw to first Miller showed off his wheels as his much slimmer self had a perfect slide under the tag. Miller walked back to the dugout as if he’s done this 1,000 times. Incredible swagger.

The Dancing KING

Fast forward to late June 2013. Miller finds himself back in a Reds uniform for the first time since 2010. Looking more like the Corky we know and love, sporting the fu Manchu, Miller shows off his quick footwork. Juan Uribe flies out to Jay Bruce who’s throw home took Corky off to the left of home. Hanley Ramirez, not the best baserunner himself, runs past home, retreats, dances around the grounded Miller only to be tagged on the third attempt while flailing towards home. This is so ugly that it is absolutely beautiful.

The Next Cy Young

Corky was more than a catcher and fan favorite. He was an elite pitcher. Well, maybe not elite. Over his career in the minors he pitched 7.2 innings and surrendered 14 hits, 13 earned runs and struck out 2. But in 2012 while playing for the Louisville Bats he pitched a scoreless inning. Down 13-0 in the bottom of the 8th, Miller came in to throw some rainbows in the general direction of home plate. A fly out to left, a pop out to first, and a fly out to right Miller put down the Columbus batters in order.

While his career might not stand out, Miller’s impact has. One of the beloved players in the clubhouse, he has mentored many young catchers along the way. Here’s to many more great years to Corky!

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Cincinnati Reds

How a Shortened Season can Help and Hurt the Reds

step back and attempt to look at the way the Reds can benefit from a possible shortened season and how it could hurt them.

Clay Snowden

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The world is in an obscure and unsure place. Today we were supposed to be watching a parade and cheering on the Redlegs. Instead, we are confused about the future of the 2020 season as we watch the 7th straight episode of a Netflix series, perfecting social distancing. How the 2020 season will be played has yet to be determined. I want to take a step back and attempt to look at the way the Reds can benefit from a possible shortened season and how it could hurt them.

Each day that passes without baseball is a day closer to a season without 162 games. For the sake of argument, let’s say the season is somewhere between 75-100 games. What ways can that benefit the Reds?

1. They can get healthy. Suarez, Senzel, and Galvis (amongst others) have battled some spring injuries. Extra time off only helps their recovery and could lead to a 100% healthy “Opening Day” lineup. Although Galvis is not a top ten talent at short, he is much better than the current back up options. Luckily, he should be ready to go and 100%.

2. The rotation can be a great strength. We all know how strong the current rotation is. The Reds could adjust the strategy because you won’t be worried about getting starters 32 starts and 200ish innings. With a compact season, you could let starters go deeper in games, or even go to a shorter rotation because you won’t be trying to strength out the innings over several months. Bauer and Disco are both on contract years and will be laser-focused on making the most of their fewer starts to prove their value come next offseason. If the league goes heavy on doubleheaders, Mahle and a few others could step up into the expanded rotation and stronger than many team’s depth starters.

3. How a shorten season benefits Votto? As Joey ages, he will need more days off, especially if the decline is steady. If Joey does not have to prepare himself for 162 games, it could lead to better results as he would be fresher. We all know he can get off to slow starts and avoiding that would be crucial in a shortened season.

How can the shortened season hurt the Reds?

1. David Bell is still a new manager. Fresh, unproven, inexperienced. At times in 2019, he cost the Reds some games. There is little to no margin for error in a short season. Each game means more and the lineup experimenting with playing players out of position won’t fly. Managerial experience will be extremely important in 2020 and hopefully Bell has improved after year one.

2. Lack of important experience for prospects. Tyler Stephenson, Jose Garcia, Jonathan India, and many other prospects are missing out on developmental time. This one really stings. A couple of the Reds top prospects are projected to be on the 2021 roster but needed some time in higher levels of the minors to learn and iron out a few things. You can train and work with coaches during this time, but the actual game experience cannot be overlooked.

3. Pressure. Obviously, every game counts each season. But a shortened season stresses the importance of each game. The Reds cannot afford to go on a losing streak as they did at the beginning of 2019. The expectations for 2020 remain high, and the pressure to perform is building. The adjustment to the MLB for Shogo must happen fast. Senzel has to stay healthy. The margin of error shrinks and pressure goes up. Iglesias cannot struggle to close out games or he’ll be replaced.

The 2020 season won’t be ideal. No one wants it to be this way. Watching 162 games a year is a joy and I will miss the routine of watching the Reds every night. Let’s hope this shortened season feels and plays like a playoff series where every aspect of the game is emphasized and more important. Here’s to everyone staying safe and healthy, and the Reds winning the pennant.

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