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New Rules Could Be Grave, Man, For Guys Like Kendall

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Oakland Athletics v Detroit Tigers
“I can haz the low strikes?”
Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Every now and again (I think the last time was roughly three nows and two agains ago), a casual reference is made to rules changes that will be considered this coming off-season.

One is the earth-shattering (not) issuance of an intentional walk simply by saying “Go to first base, you hitter-we-don’t-want-to-pitch-to!” This is purportedly being considered as another way to speed up the game, because an intentional walk every few games apparently slows the game down far more than catchers who see the need to trot out to the mound every other pitch. Whatever.

A more impactful change being considered is the raising of the strike zone e’er so slightly to eliminate low strikes across the “hollow of the kneecap” and raise the bar, so to speak, to the top of the kneecap. Never mind that the strike zone already has a variance of several inches in any direction based on each umpire’s unique interpretation, their set-up position behind the catcher, the track record of the pitcher and batter (because that’s really supposed to matter), and the breed of guide dog accompanying some of the umpires. Apparently the way to bring more offense back to a post-PED era is to call some of the pitches that have been, for a century or so, strikes, “balls now!”

If this change is implemented it is going to impact some pitchers more than others. Sean Doolittle only throws fastballs at the bottom of the knee cap by mistake. And then there are sinker ball pitchers like Kendall Graveman, whose game is to pound the bottom of the strike zone and hope the umpire isn't chary with his low strikes.

Take away an inch or two at the bottom of the strike zone, and perhaps more importantly make umpires acutely aware of not calling too low a strike, and it could be more than a nuisance to the pitchers who rely heavily on “pounding the knees” with their pitches. It could be crippling to sinker ball pitchers to lose the border line low strike and to be forced to bring their pitches up in the zone. Heck, that’s exactly what opposing batters are trying to get sinker ball pitchers to do. Now the rules committee may be doing it for them.

What I wonder is: If this rule change takes effect, will it change the way teams draft pitchers? Will “pitch to contact” ground ball pitchers, like Graveman, like Trevor Cahill, like Jake Westbrook — all solid #4 SPs when they’re right and even a bit better than that when they’re thriving — see their stock plummet with their bread and butter snatched away from them?

Yes it’s only a matter of an inch or two. So is the difference between a ball fouled back to the screen or launched into the bleachers. So is the difference between a foul tip and a swinging strike. Baseball is indeed very much a game of inches and we may be inching towards an era where the sinker loses a great deal of stock in the market that is pitching. Stay tuned.