Here's how MLB is hoping to liven up the game this season

Big League Stew

If there’s been one constant since Rob Manfred took the office of Major League Baseball commissioner before the 2015 season, it’s looking for little tweaks to the rules to liven up baseball games. That’s how we ended up with the rule about batters not stepping out of the box and the between-innings clock.

What’s next as we head into the 2017 season? According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, MLB is trying to push through two more new rules: raising the strike zone and eliminating the four-pitch intentional walk.

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Neither of these are new ideas, as Manfred and his crew of rule-tweakers have talked about them in the past, but according to Stark, MLB has drawn up format proposals in hopes of getting the players’ union to green light them for 2017. They’re part of baseball’s ongoing pace-of-play mission.

Will intentional walks like this be a thing of the past? (Getty Images)
Will intentional walks like this be a thing of the past? (Getty Images)

Here’s the skinny from ESPN:

MLB’s proposal would raise the lower part of the strike zone to the top of the hitter’s knees. Since 1996, the bottom of the zone has been defined as “the hollow beneath the kneecap.” But data shows that umpires have been increasingly calling strikes on so many pitches below the knees that, if umpires enforce the redefined strike zone, it would effectively raise the zone by an estimated 2 inches.

The change in the intentional-walk rule would end the long-standing practice of requiring the pitcher to toss four soft pitches outside the strike zone. Instead, a team could just signify it wants to issue an intentional walk, and the hitter would be sent directly to first base.

Both rules would seek to bring more action to the game, just in different ways. The intentional-walk rule, which has been talked about since the first round of pace-of-play rule tweaks, would cut down in dead time. Intentional walks are actually down, as Stark points out, so more than anything, this would serve notice that baseball is OK with bucking tradition.

The strike-zone change would bring more offense to the game, because the more pitchers have to keep the ball up, the more big-league hitters are going to smack it around the yard. Pitchers had been, by and large, enjoying a dominant few years over hitters recently — until 2016, when homers were up. Either way, homers stand to attract more new viewers more than strikeouts do. While more runs would actually make games longer, MLB isn’t so much worried about the length of games as it is the pace of games. It wants more action and less downtime.

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The two rules aren’t contingent upon one another. In fact, Stark says MLB figures to have an easier time pushing through the intentional-walk rule for 2017 than the strike-zone change. That makes sense. Any change that seemingly helps batters isn’t going to be loved by pitchers.

As it stands now, the players’ union is gathering opinions from its constituents, but with spring training right around the corner and games beginning within a matter of weeks, there’s not much time to figure out what’s going to be strike and what’s going to be a ball.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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