In its zeal to add excitement to the game and tilt the playing field back toward beleaguered hitters, Major League Baseball on Wednesday announced its most ambitious experiment to be carried out in its minor-league laboratories: Moving the pitching back one foot, to 61 feet, 6 inches.
The change will occur in the second half of the Atlantic League season as MLB once again will use the affiliated but independent minor league to workshop potentially massive changes to the game at the big league level.
Some experiments failed to gain traction – such as the “stealing first base on a passed ball” concept.
Others are now viewed as imminent – such as the automated ball-strike system, or “robot” umpire.
'A MAGICAL PLACE': Former Negro Leagues park being restored to former glory
MORE MLB: What is baseball's antitrust exemption?
And others actually made it to the major leagues – such as the three-batter minimum that has handcuffed managers while also failing to cut down on the length of games.
Now, as average fastball creeps toward 95 mph and strikeouts annually outpace hits, MLB is hoping to reverse a 15-year trend of strikeout rates increasing from 16.4% of all plate appearances in 2005 to a record 23.4% in 2020.
In announcing the experiment, MLB says moving the mound back by a foot will convert a 93.3 mph fastball (the major league average in 2020) to a 91.6 mph fastball. Nearly three dozen pitchers who threw at least 80 innings in 2019 – the last full season – average nearly 95 mph per fastball, which would theoretically make their heaters easier to handle while, perhaps, impacting the bite of their secondary offerings, as well.
And it will mark the first change in distance from rubber to home plate since 1893.
"That's like moving the free throw line," New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who was briefed on potential changes over the winter, said on a video call with media on Wednesday. "I'm curious what will be gleaned from it. It's pretty aggressive, but good that MLB is trying these things out."
As for pitcher health, MLB cites an experiment conducted by the American Sports Medicine Institute in October 2019 that utilized “high-level collegiate baseball players” throwing from various distances; they registered “significant differences in key measures of rotational motion (kinetics) or acceleration (kinematics) among the varying pitching distances. In addition, ball velocity and strike percentage remained consistent.”
Naturally, all eyes will be on the second half of the Atlantic League season for dips in strikeout percentage and spikes in batting average. MLB last month announced a handful of experiments throughout the minors, including increasing the size of bases to better incentivize stealing them and limits on pickoff throws and time between pitches.
MLB also announced an additional experiment for the league - a so-called "double hook" rule that would force a team to lose its designated hitter as soon as it lifts its starting pitcher from the game. The league hopes the rule would "incentivize teams to leave their starting pitchers in longer," and serve as a compromise between the American and National league approaches to the DH.
The rule would theoretically curb the use of "openers" to start games, although reversing a nearly century-long trend of starting pitcher diminution would require much more than a singular rule change.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB rule change, moving back mound, will be tested in Atlantic League