Cubs president Hoyer supports rule changes to help hitters
Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer wouldn't be doing his job if he wasn't looking for every avenue to make things easier for hitters in Major League Baseball.
Because let's face it, the Cubs' offense stinks right now with an MLB-worst .163 team batting average. But Hoyer might be thinking bigger picture with this one.
"We've got to do something to get more offense in the game," Hoyer said. "The ball has to be in play more. That's not just for our team, that's for the whole game."
Hoyer's thoughts were in response to a couple of experimental rules that will be implemented in the independent Atlantic League later this summer. One change is the pitching rubber will be moved back a foot, to 61 feet, 6 inches from the plate.
The idea is to give the batter more time to react to the pitch, since the strikeout rate in MLB this season is at an all-time high of nearly 25 percent.
"Whether you want to talk about the mound being moved back a foot, whether you want to talk about different ways of getting rid of the shift, whether you want to talk about substances on the ball -- they're all meant to do the same thing, which is to give the hitter some advantage in this game," Hoyer said. "The defense is throwing the ball harder and harder every year.
"We need to make adjustments. The DH originally came of these adjustments. The mound being lowered (in 1969) came from these adjustments. I personally am of the mind, obviously I love baseball, but I don't believe the rules are written on stone tablets. We have to be willing to make adjustments as players change."
It so happens, the person who helped put these experimental rules into place is Hoyer's good buddy and former boss Theo Epstein. After nine years of running the Cubs, Epstein is now working as a consultant for MLB to help improve the game experience.
As Hoyer mentioned, more pitchers are throwing 95-plus miles per hour, and defensive shifts have become common. Every other team has managed to hit the ball better than the Cubs this season, but these are legitimate issues.
"As much as I like looking at (social media site) Pitching Ninja and all these dominant pitches, I think it's really important that there's a balance and the ball's in play more," Hoyer said. "I look at the mound thing as just one option. But I hope some of these options work out. Good defense and good baserunning need to be more a part of our games than strikeouts."
Epstein went on MLB Network this week to explain the thought process behind the experimental rules and, not surprisingly, he and Hoyer are on the same page.
"No one's looking to get away from the essence of baseball," Epstein said. "What we're hoping to do is move the game slightly in the direction of where we can get closer to the very best version of baseball.
"The consensus seems to be we could stand to have a little bit more action, a little bit more entertainment value in the game. A lot that comes with more contact."
The other experimental rule for the Atlantic League has to do with the designated hitter. Both teams will start the game with the DH, but the DH must leave when the starting pitcher leaves. At that point, the pitchers hit for themselves.
Epstein talked about how it's the best of both worlds -- a quality hitter in the DH role, plus the traditional National League strategy late in the game.
But it also seems to be an attack on the "opener" trend, where teams use a starting pitcher designed to throw just 1 or 2 innings. Might as well call this one the "Tampa Bay Rays rule," since they popularized the practice.
Hopefully, moving the rubber back a foot won't be known as the "Javy Baez rule," since the Cubs' shortstop currently leads MLB in whiffs.
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