AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK — Baseball’s strike zone could be getting a slight lift.
Major League Baseball is studying whether to raise the bottom of the strike zone from the hollow beneath the kneecap back to the top of the kneecap.
“I’m not in a position to predict whether it’s going to happen or not,” Rob Manfred said during an interview with The Associated Press on Monday on his anniversary as baseball commissioner. “I think that the interest in the topic is really driven by the fact that if you look over time there has been a movement down of the strike zone, largely as a result of the way we evaluate the strike zone with umpires.”
Strike zone data was included in a presentation given to owners last week at their meeting in Coral Gables, Florida. An agreement with the players’ association would be necessary to make a change for this year, and baseball officials said the matter is likely to be discussed during collective bargaining, which would delay any change until 2017.
The strike zone extended to the top of the kneecap through the 1995 season, then was dropped to its current level.
“The umpires have done a great job calling the strike zone as we want it called,” Manfred said. “The question is whether we ought to make an adjustment.”
Consideration of an alteration comes following a decade-and-a-half decline in offense. There was an uptick during the second half last season.
“The bottom to the top of the knees is only a matter of a couple inches, so it wouldn’t be a big adjustment for anybody,” San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford said in an email. “But, it may help hitters mentally knowing that the zone is a little smaller (even if only by a couple inches). It could help us check off pitches that look like they might be at the bottom of the zone but are sinking even lower.”
On other topics:
FIRST REGULAR SEASON GAMES IN LONDON IN 2017
“We are very interested in playing there, and we’re working hard on that one,” Manfred said. “I don’t think it will be an opener because of the weather issues. It would be later in the season.”
Baseball has been looking at the new Olympic Stadium as a possible venue. He wouldn’t discuss the possibility of shifting a high-profile matchup to England, such as Yankees-Red Sox.
“We haven’t really settled on teams, and I don’t want to speculate about that,” he said. “Obviously, we want to make as good a first impression in Europe as we possibly can.”
Manfred said that when he spoke last week of a possible expansion of the designated hitter to the National League, he should have included an emphasis that change is not likely.
“I think the status quo on the DH has served the industry the well,” he said. “I think it serves an important purpose in terms of defining the difference between the American League and the National League, and that league definition is important to us from a competitive perspective.”
“I have been of the view for a number of years that a single mode of entry into the bargaining unit is probably the most sustainable and effective for the industry over time,” Manfred said. “I think we were closer to getting there in certain rounds of bargaining than people may have understood, and probably it was a mistake not to push it across the finish line.”
MLB is investigating Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, Colorado shortstop Jose Reyes and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig under the new domestic violence policy agreed to with the players’ association last summer.
“These cases present a challenge in terms of witnesses, facts, criminal proceedings,” Manfred said. “We’re going to try to navigate those choppy waters in a way that sends the right message from the institution.”
Whether to shorten the season from 162 games, its length since the early 1960s, is a topic for collective bargaining.
“The broadcast agreements are a really serious issue, and we’re going to sort out what flexibility we have once the issue gets aired at the table,” Manfred said.
While he is concerned about the demands on players, “by the same token, there are certain economics built on a 162-game season. Something less than that has massive economic ramifications, not to even mention statistics and undermining the comparability of performances of players over time. It’s not something you can undertake lightly.”
MLB recommended last month that teams have protective netting in front of seats between the dugouts and within 70 feet of home plate.
“I do think this will be an issue that evolves,” Manfred said. “We’ll see what that reaction is and we will continue to adjust in a way that emphasizes safety and gives our fans the experience they want in the ballpark.”
TOP THREE ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Initiatives for youth baseball, such as Play Ball with the U.S. Conference of Mayors; integration of baseball’s divisions into a unified structure; international developments, such as an agreement to stream games in China.
“The most fun absolutely has to be when you’re out there interacting with fans, particularly young fans,” Manfred said. “I love going to the ballpark. I didn’t think this was going to be the case: I miss the play of the game on the field now more than I did in my old job.”
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.