Experimental rule changes involving the Lansing Lugnuts and Minor League Baseball are worth paying attention to. Last year, the Major Leagues announced two controversial rule changes: doubleheaders would feature seven-inning games instead of nine-inning games, and in extra-inning games, a runner would be placed at second base to start the
Experimental rule changes involving the Lansing Lugnuts and Minor League Baseball are worth paying attention to. Last year, the Major Leagues announced two controversial rule changes: doubleheaders would feature seven-inning games instead of nine-inning games, and in extra-inning games, a runner would be placed at second base to start the inning. It's likely you saw both in Lansing before you saw them in the Majors, since both of those rule changes came from Minor League Baseball.
The newest slate of experimental changes were announced yesterday, as announced by MLB consultant Theo Epstein.
At the High-A level, to encourage more stolen base attempts, the rule (which will be used the first half of the season and extended for the full season if it goes well) dictates "the pitcher will be required to step off the rubber before attempting a pickoff."
Watch Andy Pettitte's pickoff move in this video. He lifts his right leg up as if to start his pitching motion, and then he steps toward first and delivers his throw over. It's a deadly tactic for left-handed pitchers to keep runners close, lest they be picked off and tagged out.
Pettitte's pickoff move is now a balk under the Step-Off rule, with the runner awarded second base.
Here's a different example.
The "inside move" is a pickoff technique used to nail runners at second base -- but if the pitcher doesn't step off the rubber, as the pitcher doesn't in this video, it's a balk.
The Step-Off rule was tested in 2019 in the independent Atlantic League, which saw an average of 1.02 stolen-base attempts per game without the rule, but 1.73 attempts per game with the rule instituted.
That near doubling of attempts is what Major League Baseball is hoping for, an increase in teams being aggressive on the basepaths in pursuit of a more exciting game.
Now, if you attended Lugnuts games in 2018 or 2019, you grew accustomed to seeing stolen-base attempts, aided by first-base coach Dave Pano. Alejandro Kirk, pictured above, stole home in just his second game with the Nuts, one of 170 bases swiped by Lansing in 2019.
In 2018, the Lugnuts stole a remarkable 203 bases, led by 44 steals apiece from Samad Taylor and Chavez Young and 37 steals from Reggie Pruitt. In contrast, the Lugnuts' new MLB parent club, the Oakland A's, stole just 35 bases all year, and the A's High-A affiliate in Stockton stole only 82 bases. (Stockton then stole 91 bases in 2019.)
That lack of steals and general base-to-base stagnancy at the Major League level is what MLB is attempting to fix. Should things go well this year in Lansing and the rest of High-A, this is a rule change that could soon make its way to the Majors like seven-inning doubleheaders and extra-inning bonus runners.
Triple-A will be using larger bases (18x18 rather than 15x15) with a less slippery surface, again looking to aid base runners.
Double-A will seek to combat shifts, experimenting with a rule that keeps all four infielders on the dirt when the pitcher comes plateward.
Low-A restricts pitchers to two pickoff throws per plate appearance, though they can gamble and try a third as long as the runner breaks for the next base. The Low-A Southeast league, formerly the Florida State League, will use an electronic strike zone. The Low-A West, formerly the California League, will use a 15-second pitch clock.