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Baseball purists should be the most excited for incoming rule changes

They may sound bad, but rule changes might give you exactly what you want.

Nicky Lopez attempts a bunt
They could even improve the value of bunting!
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

For several years, MLB has been talking about a variety of rule changes they may or may not implement in order to improve the game. For the same amount of time, baseball purists have been arguing that baseball should be left alone. Unfortunately for them, it seems likely that several new rules will be implemented next year and perhaps the year after. Or maybe I should say fortunately for them, the rules are being changed despite their arguments against them.

It’s perfectly reasonable to be opposed to change. Change is scary. Baseball is an old sport that’s seen a lot of change around it while it has steadfastly continued on. However, what many people don’t seem to realize is that despite its attempts to remain exactly the same, baseball has drastically changed in recent years.

I’ve written more than once about how I think the rules might improve the game. I think the three likeliest rule changes will make baseball a safer and more enjoyable experience. But I had an epiphany earlier this week that the ways in which I think the rule changes can improve the game are all ways in which the rules will actually force or encourage the game to revert to earlier behaviors. In other words, baseball purists, these rule changes will make the game more like the one you remember and wish it still was.

The pitch clock

Believe it or not, there already exists a rule regarding the time between pitches. Funnily enough, that rule is actually more strict than the one that would be implemented with the pitch clock; the current rule requires a pitch be delivered within 12 seconds, the pitch clock allows a much more generous 14 and may be started even higher in an effort to allow pitchers to become accustomed to it. The existing rule, obviously, is not enforced.

OK, so the rule already exists, but since it was never enforced how can I say that using a pitch clock will make things like they used to be? Well, go back and watch an old baseball game sometime. Say from the ‘70s or even ‘80s. Pitchers got the ball, and they pitched it. They didn’t stand around like modern pitchers do. A pitch clock would force them to bring the pace of play back up to where it was.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I also wonder if it mightn’t affect the health of pitchers in a positive way. One of the hallmarks of the modern game is gearing up to throw the ball as hard as you possibly can. A lot of the injuries stem from the fact that while you can strengthen muscles, there’s very little you can do to make ligaments stronger, and they snap under all the force created by the giant muscles. If pitchers aren’t allowed to gear up to throw as hard as before, might they actually save themselves from some of the injuries they’ve endured? And might it also allow them to throw more pitches safely and allow them to get deeper into games like they used to do? Like I said, it’s pure speculation, but pitcher health is definitely something that’s going to be under a microscope with the pitch clock.

Larger bases

In the modern game, players are constantly challenging home run records laid out before. This makes sense as players are now bigger and stronger than ever. Of course, they’re also faster than ever but some records that seem extremely unlikely to ever be touched are the stolen base records. Now, Rickey Henderson holds the career record at 1,408. No other player even has 1,000 stolen bases. But the best player on the leaderboard who played a game after 2000 is Juan Pierre. He sits at 18 with 614 SBs, less than half what Rickey achieved.

The single-season record is held by a player named Hugh Nicol who stole 138 bases in 1887. Rickey Henderson comes in second there, having stolen 130 bases in 1982. Since 2000 the most bases that have been stolen in a season? 70 by Scott Podsednik in 2004, only slightly more than half. There have been 21 player seasons with more than 100 bases stolen, none since Vince Coleman in 1987.

Stolen bases have largely fallen out of favor because statisticians figured out that you needed to be successful a great deal of the time to make them worth it. Additionally, with the advent of instant replay, players are more likely to be called out for briefly losing contact with the base than ever before.

The new bases will be safer. We know that much and that would be enough to justify that change. But what you may not have considered is that, while it will be a small change, the distance between bases will shrink. This makes a stolen base more likely. Additionally, the bases being flatter and wider should make it easier for runners to maintain contact with them and thereby make success more likely for those reasons as well. If stealing a base becomes easier, it might make more sense for runners to start trying more often once again.

Banning the shift

This is probably the most controversial rule change that is likely to be implemented. However, it’s also the one that most obviously will revert baseball to a previous time. Shifting just wasn’t used very often. Occasionally, a team would use it on someone like Jim Thome or some other big, slow lefty. Even then, however, it wasn’t used on him all the time or even every at-bat in the same game. These days almost every batter, right-handed or left-handed, gets a wild shift of some sort. We haven’t just lost the grounders into right field, but even the hard rollers right up the middle - where purists would tell batters to try to hit the ball.

Banning the shift would force defenses to play more like how they used to. There’d be more groundball singles - again encouraging stolen bases because being one base closer to home matters more when there are more singles. The game, in general, would play more like how it did even 10 years ago. And it would be a lot more fun to see rallies continue instead of waiting for home runs to get some scoring done.

So, yes, change can be scary. But the changes, in this case, have largely already happened. These new rules are aimed at removing those changes and improving the game. And I can’t wait to see the way the sport plays once their implemented.