Atlantic League to experiment with batters “stealing first base”

Craig Calcaterra
NBC Sports

People often joke about fast guys who can’t hit by saying “you can’t steal first base.” What Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League’s new rules presuppose is, “what if you can?”

As you’re no doubt aware, Major League Baseball and the independent Atlantic League recently entered into a three-year agreement in which the Atlantic League will adopt experimental rules suggested by Major League Baseball to study their effects on game play. The Atlantic League is now, basically, a guinea pig.

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The most talked-about changes to date have been the idea of banning defensive shifts, moving the pitching rubber back a couple of feet to mitigate hard-throwing pitchers which have led to a strikeout boom and to work with electronic ball-and-strike calls. Today Jacob Bogage of the Washington Post talks about the inaccurately-called “robot umpires” but in the course of doing do mentions another experiment that is way, way farther out there:

In the second half of the season, the league will allow batters to steal first base: Any pitch on any count not caught in flight will be considered a live ball, and a batter may run to first base, similar to a dropped third strike.

I’m assuming the impulse is to increase game “action” and to make up for the lack of non-homer hits in the game by allowing runners to reach base on plays that are more exciting than walks. Maybe that helps, but I presume that, if it was ever widely implemented, it would select hard for defensive-oriented catchers at the expense of catchers who can hit. Given that we’re already at an all-time nadir for catchers hitting I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but maybe it’ll be made up for by it selecting for control pitchers. There are always unintended and unexpected consequences for any change.

That aside: Did anyone who actually enjoys baseball ask for this? I realize that hasn’t stopped MLB before, but I am genuinely curious who came up with this idea.

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