Major League Baseball could be on the verge of changing the strike zone and making it so pitchers don't have to throw four balls to issue an intentional walk.
Per ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, MLB's competition committee approved a new strike zone and a motion to abolish the old-fashioned intentional-walk system, with both changes possibly going into effect for the 2017 season.
The change would raise the lower part of the strike zone from the bottom of a hitter's kneecap to the top of the knee. Stark noted the reasoning behind the change is a recent trend by umpires "to call strikes on an increasing number of pitches below the knees."
Stark also noted the goal of the change is "to produce more balls in play," as 30 percent of hitters either walk or strike out, which is "the highest rate of 'non-action' in history."
To issue an intentional walk, pitchers currently have to lob four pitches outside of the strike zone. The new rule would allow teams to signal they want to intentionally walk the hitter, who would immediately be sent to first base with no pitches required.
Stark added that MLB's playing rules committee must approve the changes before they can go into effect. He also cited sources who said the rules would be presented to the MLB Players Association "as part of negotiations for a new labor agreement," but the union doesn't have to approve the changes.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has stressed that he wants to improve the pace of play for the sport. On Tuesday, Stark reported the average nine-inning game in 2016 has lasted three hours, 26 seconds, up nearly seven minutes from the same point last year.
There will always be a period of adjustment with any rule change, just as there was with replay in 2014. It may not be a happy transition early on for players or umpires while they get used to a new strike zone, though it would be a small price to pay if it helps keep more fans engaged in the action on the field.