Baseball trivia buffs better take note because the answer to “how many ways can a batter reach first base?” might be changing. Major League Baseball will allow hitters in the Atlantic League to steal first base in the second half of the Atlantic League season, according to the Washington Post.
Just to be clear, this change is not coming to MLB during the second half. It’s coming to only the Atlantic League.
That is significant as MLB is connected to the Atlantic League. The two leagues partnered together in February. For MLB, the partnership is all about testing radical ideas to see how they impact baseball. If any of those ideas stick, MLB could consider adopting them in the future.
As for the whole stealing first base thing, here’s how it will work, according to the Post.
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.
On any ball dropped by the catcher, a runner can attempt to steal first base.
The rule would drastically alter the game if it is adopted in MLB. Players like Billy Hamilton might suddenly gain extra value. If a ball gets away, he can easily make it to first base. Given his speed, he’ll probably steal second base too.
Not only that, but players like Hamilton might see fewer breaking balls as a result of the new rule. If pitchers fear wild pitches or passed balls, they might serve up more fastballs to players with elite speed. In Hamilton’s case, that would be a good thing. He hits fastballs and sinkers much better than breaking stuff.
With all that said, there’s no guarantee this will come to MLB soon. MLB has experimented with a few different ideas in the Atlantic League this season, including moving the mound back and automated strike zones.
After the season, MLB will evaluate the data from those experiments and determine what worked and what did not. If it wants to implement those new rules, MLB would negotiate with the MLB Players Association on those changes. In recent years, the players have been hesitant to agree to any rule change that would alter the game.
Ultimately, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred can unilaterally implement rules as he sees fit. Even without player approval, some of these changes could come to MLB over the next couple years.
While some fans might not be on board with that, at least MLB is testing extreme rule changes instead of immediately putting them into practice and hoping for the best.
That’s not to say the league’s plan is perfect, but at least it’ll have done some research before proposing something drastic.
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