By TIM DAHLBERG
The stat geeks are all excited, even if no one else seems to be. They’ve spent the first days of the baseball season analyzing a bunch of new numbers that show the possibilities — and probabilities — of runners scoring after being put on second base to open extra innings.
What they’ve found is interesting enough, though the sample size is small. Still, deciding whether to bunt or not with the first batter has at least introduced a bit of strategy into a game that in recent times has seemed intent on eliminating any deep thoughts.
Assuming the pandemic doesn’t cause the season to come to a crashing close — a big assumption right now — they’ll also soon be able to dive into the seven-inning doubleheaders and come up with numbers that show the proper way to handle pitchers. And they’ll study what needs to be done to make the new playoffs, though with 16 teams that’s easy enough even for those of us who weren’t paying much attention in math class.
But why stop there? Like it or not we have a weird new season with some weird new rules. Let’s keep going to make baseball America’s favorite pastime once again.
Here’s a few more things baseball can do in this, a season like no other:
NEW COUNTS: Batters will now start with 1-1 counts, much like competitive softball. This will save on pitcher arms, ultimately allowing starters to go four, perhaps even five, innings.
BIG HITS: Let’s face it, all home runs aren’t created equal. Some barely curve around a foul pole into the first row of seats, others are caught by the Wrigley Field ball hawkers on Waveland Avenue. For now on, any home run over 400 feet is worth two runs instead of one. This will give hitters the incentive to blindly swing as hard as they can and cut down on boring singles. Still to be determined is what to call a long home run with the bases loaded, which would now be worth five runs. Grander Slam?
PICK A PITCHER: Teams will have to warm up two relief pitchers at a time in the bullpen, something that should be doable in a season of expanded rosters. If a pitcher is pulled, the team at bat gets to pick which reliever it wants to face.
SCHEDULE: The Yankees must be scheduled to play at least a third of their games against the Orioles. Unless, of course, the Orioles have a winning record. Then the Yankees play the Red Sox like usual.
SWING AND MISS: It’s tough to face 99 mph fastballs, and splitters that dive before they reach the plate. To help hitters, anyone who has swung twice and missed in an at-bat will be allowed to place the ball on a tee and hit.
POWER BALLS: With the coronavirus very much in play, umpires are tossing out new balls almost every time one gets touched. Under the new rules, two orange balls will be put in the umpire pouch at the start of each inning to be pulled out at random. The batter at the plate when the ball is put into play has the option of accepting a free pass to first base or taking a chance on spinning the wheel behind home plate that offers outcomes ranging from a ground out to a home run. The inning is automatically over if the wheel lands on a picture of Rob Manfred’s face.
UMPIRE DISCIPLINE: Enough grousing about umpires who slow games down by missing obvious calls. Let’s do something about them. Umpires who have calls overturned will now have to sit on a big stool in the right field corner and wear a dunce cap for an inning.
MOUND VISITS: Eliminated, along with conferences on the mound. Talking behind gloves spreads the virus.
ROJAS RULE: There will be new protocols for deciding whether teams can play games because of the coronavirus. Final decisions will now go to Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas, who will make the ruling. Rojas is also the designated relief bus driver for Covid Coaches that take infected teams that were on road trips back to their home city.
COVID RULE: Remember all those rules about spitting, high-fiving and wearing masks in the dugout? Start respecting them — and quick — or there will be no baseball.
And, one final new rule:
The next time a team cheats to win a World Series don’t punish the losing team for being upset about it.
___ Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg