Major League Baseball announced a series of experimental rules that will be implemented at various levels of Minor League Baseball in 2021 on Thursday evening. The Charleston RiverDogs and other Low-A East teams will be impacted by one of these changes, which will limit the number of “step offs” or “pickoff attempts” allowed per plate appearance.
According to the release from MLB, the following rule applies to all RiverDogs games this season. Pitchers will be limited to a total of two “step offs” or “pickoffs” per plate appearance while there is at least one runner on base. A pitcher may attempt a third step off or pickoff in the same plate appearance; however, if the runner safely returns to the occupied base, the result is a balk. Depending on the preliminary results of this experimental rule change, MLB will consider reducing the limitation to a single “step off” or “pickoff” per plate appearance with at least one runner on base.
Below is a summary of experimental rules that will be tested during the 2021 Minor League season, which will vary by level:
TRIPLE-A (LARGER BASES): To reduce player injuries and collisions, the size of first, second and third base will be increased from 15 inches square to 18 inches square. The Competition Committee also expects the shorter distances between bases created by increased size to have a modest impact on the success rate of stolen base attempts and the frequency with which a batter-runner reaches base on groundballs and bunt attempts.
DOUBLE-A (DEFENSIVE POSITIONING): The defensive team must have a minimum of four players on the infield, each of whom must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield dirt. Depending on the preliminary results of this experimental rule change, MLB may require two infielders to be positioned entirely on each side of second base in the second half of the Double-A season. These restrictions on defensive positioning are intended to increase the batting average on balls in play.
HIGH-A (“STEP OFF” RULE): Pitchers are required to disengage the rubber prior to throwing to any base, with the penalty of a balk in the event the pitcher fails to comply. MLB implemented a similar rule in the second half of the Atlantic League season in 2019, which resulted in a significant increase in stolen base attempts and an improved success rate after adoption of the rule.
LOW-A (PICKOFF LIMITATION, PITCH TIMER, AND ABS):
ALL LOW-A LEAGUES: Pitchers will be limited to a total of two “step offs” or “pickoffs” per plate appearance while there is at least one runner on base. A pitcher may attempt a third step off or pickoff in the same plate appearance; however, if the runner safely returns to the occupied base, the result is a balk. Depending on the preliminary results of this experimental rule change, MLB will consider reducing the limitation to a single “step off” or “pickoff” per plate appearance with at least one runner on base.
LOW-A SOUTHEAST: In addition to the limitations on step offs/pickoffs, MLB will expand testing of the Automatic Ball-Strike System (“ABS”) that began in the Atlantic League and Arizona Fall League to select Low-A Southeast games to assist home plate umpires with calling balls and strikes, ensure a consistent strike zone is called, and determine the optimal strike zone for the system.
LOW-A WEST: In addition to the limitations on step offs/pickoffs, following successful pace of game rules testing among Florida State League teams in 2019, on-field timers (one in the outfield, two behind home plate between the dugouts) will be implemented to enforce time limits between delivery of pitches, inning breaks and pitching changes. The on-field timer used in Low-A West will include new regulations beyond the system currently used in Triple-A and Double-A to reduce game length and improve the pace of play.
“The game on the field is constantly evolving, and MLB must be thoughtful and intentional about progressing toward the very best version of baseball – a version that is true to its essence and has enough consistent action and athleticism on display to entertain fans of all ages,” said Theo Epstein, Consultant to MLB. “These rules experiments will provide valuable insight into various ways to create a playing environment that encourages the most entertaining version of the game. What we learn in the Minor Leagues this year will be essential in helping all parties chart the right path forward for baseball.”
RiverDogs season tickets, flexible ticket plans, and group tickets, including options to the Segra Club at Riley Park, are now available for the 2021 campaign at riverdogs.com/tickets or by contacting the RiverDogs front office at 843-577-3647 (DOGS). The RiverDogs begin the season on May 4 when they host the Myrtle Beach Pelicans at The Joe. A full schedule for the 2021 season is available at riverdogs.com.
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