The Atlantic League, an independently owned and operated baseball league that has a partnership agreement with Major League Baseball, will use standard pitching rubber dimensions and resume having home plate umpires call balls and strikes in 2022, the league announced. Last year the league tested a 61-foot, 6-inch mound and the automated strike zone, or sometimes referred to as "robot umps." It will go back to a 60-foot, 6-inch mound and drop the automated ball-strike system in 2022.
"As we enter 2022, we reaffirm to players and fans that ball-strike calls, and the distance of the pitching rubber, will return to accepted norms," Atlantic League president Rick White said in a statement. "We retain several past MLB test features, such as 17" bases, extra innings tiebreaker and anti-shift rules, among others. The test rules and equipment are transitional by definition: Some elements remain, others are tweaked, and still others are abandoned. That's why MLB and the ALPB conduct the tests."
Although the Atlantic League is dropping the automated ball-strike system, it appears MLB could be installing the system at the Triple-A level. The league has officially posted 11 jobs linked to the ABS for Triple-A affiliates. You can view those job postings by clicking here. No official declaration has been made, but MLB's posting says, "Major League Baseball (MLB) will be operating the Automated Ball and Strike system (ABS) in select Spring Training venues in Florida, in AAA West and Low-A Southeast, and potentially in other non-MLB games and venues."
As noted, the Atlantic League will retain several other experimental rule changes moving forward, including larger bases and the extra innings tiebreaker rule. The league implemented the 61-foot, 6-inch mound and automated strike zone in the middle of last season, and as our R.J. Anderson reported, players were fed up and nearly went on strike.
To be clear, the Atlantic League returning back to the norm does not mean MLB is abandoning those potential rule changes. It just means the Atlantic League will not use them. MLB used the automated ball-strike system in some minor leagues in 2021.
MLB and the Atlantic League have had an official partnership since Sept. 2020. As part of the agreement, MLB can test rule changes in the Atlantic League, and in exchange MLB outfitted the eight Atlantic League ballparks with radar tracking technology (i.e. Statcast) and supplied statistical services.
The Atlantic League is expanding to 10 teams, all in the Mid-Atlantic region, in 2022. Jeremy Jeffress, Mat Latos, Logan Morrison, and Danny Valencia are among the former MLB players who played in the Atlantic League last year.