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MLB to use Atlantic League to experiment with rule changes

David Washington of the Ducks hits a two-run

David Washington of the Ducks hits a two-run homer during the eighth inning during Game 3 of the Atlantic League Championship Series at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip on Sept. 28, 2018. Credit: Daniel De Mato

New rules are coming to Central Islip, and beyond, this summer. Major League Baseball announced a three-year agreement with the Atlantic League, an independent baseball league that includes the Long Island Ducks, Tuesday afternoon.

The agreement will permit MLB to test experimental playing rules and equipment beginning this season. Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association discussed a number of potential future rule changes earlier this month, including requiring relievers to face at least three batters per appearance, instituting a 20-second pitch clock, and restricting mount visits during a game. However, specifics regarding the new Atlantic League rules and equipment changes will be announced in the coming weeks, according to a news release.

“This recognizes the Atlantic League in a way that nobody could have envisioned 25 years ago when (Ducks founder and CEO) Frank Boulton set out to create this league,” Atlantic League President Rick White said. “For 22 years, this league has been viewed by some as a rogue, maverick league outside the general jurisdiction of professional baseball … The release today was the very first time ever that Major League Baseball created an announcement that recognized the Atlantic League…”  

The Atlantic League, which already had a designated hitter, has been bullish on pace-of-play issues since 2014, when they adopted rules that included decreased time between innings, shortened on-field time outs or conferences, the ‘automatic’ intentional walk, and limited non-pitching change mound visits within a game to three. These rules will continue in 2019, White said. Earlier this offseason, the Atlantic League announced that all extra innings will begin with a runner on second base in the regular season.

The announced agreement will also enhance MLB’s ability to scout Atlantic League players more accurately and efficiently by installing radar tracking technology in all Atlantic League ballparks and providing enhanced statistical services to the league’s eight franchises. It will also institute rules governing the transfer of players from the Atlantic League to MLB, which happens frequently throughout the season.    

“This will be of immense benefit to our players, managers, and coaches,” White said. “The fact that they’re now going to viewed through the same lenses of advanced analytics that are currently in Major League Baseball … will result in more player movement from our league into Major League Baseball organizations.”

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