MLB to use Atlantic League as testbed for innovations

Major League Baseball  has entered into a partnership with the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB) that will allow it to test experimental playing rules and equipment during the latter’s Championship Season.

The independent ALPB has eight member teams in the Mid-Atlantic and Texas, with the league serving as a player gateway to MLB. The new three-year agreement includes rights for MLB to implement changes to Atlantic League playing rules in order to observe the effects of potential future rule changes and equipment. MLB will work with ALPB to modify the experimental playing rules and equipment each season during the agreement.

MLB also will enhance its scouting coverage of the Atlantic League, installing radar tracking technology in the eight Atlantic League ballparks and providing statistical services to ALPB clubs.

The new agreement continues MLB’s longstanding practice of testing potential new approaches under game conditions. In recent years, MLB has utilised and evaluated experimental rules in its Arizona Fall League, the game’s top off-season developmental platform.

MLB and the Atlantic League will announce the experimental playing rule and equipment changes for the 2019 ALPB Championship Season in the coming weeks. However, the USA Today newspaper said these could include robotic umpires calling balls and strikes, while the pitching mound could be moved back at ALPB ballparks.

Morgan Sword, MLB’s senior vice-president of league economics and operations, told the Baseball America website: “We’ve been taking a lot to our clubs and to the Players Association about changes to rules on the field. We have prototypes of new equipment we want to see in action.

“Our group thought it was better to see them (tested) in an unaffiliated baseball league. It gives us an opportunity to test some of these things in regular season competition.”

By partnering with the Atlantic League, MLB is set to gain substantially more feedback than it could through a spring training or Arizona League trial. Sword added: “There’s no question we would get better data.

“I think the radar systems have two main benefits. It will very precisely measure the effects of the changes we are making. The second reason is clubs are hungry for this type of information for scouting purposes. This allows all 30 teams to have continuous access to on-field results.”

Atlantic League president Rick White said: “We have enjoyed this working agreement the past four years that has largely covered the transfer of players. Informally when we commenced that discussion we began a dialogue. We told them that we will do things we believe are best interests of professional baseball. If it’s useful to you, great. We kind of had this happy intersection of our intentions and their initiatives where it is now formalised.”