It seems to have went under the radar, but back in May, Major League Baseball took steps toward making changes to the strike zone. You can read about it here. The gist of it is pretty simple: the bottom of the strike zone would be raised, which should/could, in theory, cause a rise in walks and/or a spike in offense in general.
If you click that link, perhaps the same thing will jump out at you that jumped out at me. Check out this excerpt:
My interpretation of that point is that, because umpires are calling the strike zone incorrectly, MLB will make changes to the zone itself rather than address it with those responsible for calling balls and strikes. This is, to me at least, somewhat counter-intuitive. Or maybe they’ve already tried and failed to correct the problem with their umpires. Who knows?
It’s 2016. We have the technology to call balls and strikes digitally, but beyond that, we have the ability to measure the performance of the human beings calling them by eye. In theory, at least, MLB could reinforce the desired strike zone to all of its officials, then penalize those who do not adhere to the rules. If the umpires interpretation of the strike zone is the issue, then the problem lies with the umps, not the zone. It doesn’t make a ton of sense to fix the thing that isn’t broken so that the thing that is broken can better function.
The funny thing is, I like human umpires. I get frustrated from time to time with their performance, but I generally enjoy the three-way chess match that occurs between hitter, pitcher, and umpire. I like that a zone can grow as a game goes on because a pitcher has displayed pinpoint accuracy. I like the groan of a crowd on a borderline pitch. I know it’s sub-optimal and undercuts the competition to some degree, but as a spectator, it’s something I like.
Having said that, I also quite like pitching. I enjoy a 15-12 game from time to time too, but my preference would be a well-pitched, well-paced 3-1 game where pitchers are buckling hitters’ knees and throwing gas past their bats. If the change to the zone does in fact increase offense through a greater volume of walks and, perhaps, balls in play*, I imagine some of the work baseball has done to increase pace of play becomes compromised. More offense means longer games and it also means less good pitching performances to watch.
* The article linked above has some quotes that suggest balls in play won’t be heightened, but I think that’s posturing. If the bottom of the zone is further off the ground, I can’t envision how there wouldn’t be more balls in play. Pitchers would presumably be aiming higher, even if just by fractions of an inch, with their pitches. If they miss, they miss a little bit higher. That’s good for hitters.
As Cubs manager Joe Maddon eludes to in that article, it’s possible that all the change does is increase the number of pitches taken and walks, at which point all that’s really happening — for the spectator, at least — is less action at a slower pace. I’m not sure why anyone would want that. His underlying point, I think, is that we can theorize all we want about what the change will cause, but until we test it out in live situations — say, spring training — we’re not going to know for sure.
For me though, it just comes back to accountability of the umpires. Their job is not easy. It seems easy watching from our sofas, but it’s not. Still, MLB has the ability to identify which guys are doing a good job and which are not, which should be enough to implement change without tinkering with the rules.