Major League Baseball recently agreed to a rule change that would effectively raise the lower part of the strike zone. The rule change is pending approval by baseball’s playing rules committee and could go into effect next season.
The lower edge of the strike zone would be raised from the hollow beneath the kneecap to the top of the knee. That would take away some of the lower, fringe, strike calls below the knees and potentially help offenses around the league.
There are pros and cons to adjusting the strike zone. One hope is that a raised strike zone would bring more consistency. Some pitchers, including the Indians’ Danny Salazar, have said that the bottom of the strike zone tends to be called with less consistency than other areas when dealing with different umpires. Indians catcher Chris Gimenez added it was “without a doubt” true.
“That would be the one part of the strike zone I feel like is the most umpire-to-umpire-based call,” Gimenez said. “Up and down [in the zone], that’s a tough one. [The lower strike] is a hard ball to judge. You get sinker ballers with late cut, it makes it difficult to judge the pitch.”
A seemingly common thought is that as long as both teams have to deal with it, it’s just another adjustment that has to be made. And different umpires already call different strike zones.
“Either way, it’s still going to be a judgment thing from umpire to umpire,” starter Corey Kluber said. “Right now there are umpires with different zones and that’ll still be the case. I don’t know how big of a difference it’ll make. I’m not out there necessarily thinking about where the bottom of the zone is, I’m pitching to a spot.”
There are potential negatives as well. Gimenez is concerned with how these changes could affect certain pitchers more than others.
“This is just my opinion on it, but it could end up causing more problems than it’s solving,” Gimenez said. “I know they want more offense. I just don’t know if it’s going to solve enough things. You’re screwing with a lot of potential futures. … As a catcher, we’re taught to teach these guys to pound the bottom of the zone. I don’t know if these guys will be able to bring it up that much on a consistent basis. And that could get them into trouble.”
He had two examples. The first is a young pitcher who comes up through the minors throwing down in the zone, all of sudden has to adjust, gets hammered and is sent back down to the minors without ever really getting a shot.
The second is the high-priced veteran pitcher in whom teams invest truckloads of money and who made that money painting the bottom of the zone but now has to reinvent himself on the fly.
“So, potentially, it could cause more problems than it helps,” Gimenez said. “There’s going to be a super adjustment period to it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. Sometimes I think they’re trying to reinvent the wheel. Maybe it doesn’t necessarily need to be changed. And if it does, there are some negative effects to it. But that’s why they make those decisions and I just deal with it.”
Indians manager Terry Francona wouldn’t speak too specifically on the matter, but just wants things to be explained properly and for every team to have to make the same adjustment. So far, with different rule changes in the last couple of seasons, he’s been pleased with the communication between MLB and the clubs.
“I know the powers that be, they’re probably always looking to make our game better for the fans,” Francona said. “The good part of it is I know they really care about not getting in the way of changing the game. … Before they ever do something, they think it through. I’ve been impressed when they’ve made changes like with replay or the slide rule. I know there were some hiccups and they own up to that, but they’re pretty good about explaining stuff to us.”
Adjusting the strike zone is, of course, a central adjustment to the game. How well players and umpires take to it in the early going will be a defining question.
But the adjustments will be made, should the rule change be approved.
“Our game is good. I know some people like complain. We’ve got a good game,” Francona said. “I don’t know if they will or not, but if they do, it’ll be for a good reason and they’ll explain it. It doesn’t really change the game. As long as you know what’s expected, you make adjustments.”
For now, they’ll wait to see if 2017 or beyond will in fact have a different strike zone. And the potential pros and cons.
“We’ll tackle it when it gets here,” closer Cody Allen said. “If they change the rule, everybody has to do it. It’ll affect the game. It will. But how drastically?”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RyanLewisABJ.