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New Little League Intentional Walk Rules Change Strategy

One of the most unique, bizarre, and intriguing strategic battles of the 2016 Little League World Series will not be repeated.       

When the Little League International Board of Directors approved new rules and regulations for the 2017 season, it changed the way intentional walks can be handled.

One of three changes designed to increase the pace of play in baseball allows the defensive team to intentionally walk a batter by announcing the decision to the plate umpire. The ball is ruled dead, only runners who are forced will advance and four pitches are added to the pitcher’s official pitch count while the batter is awarded first base.
It was during the 2016 Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania that Goodlettsville (Tennessee) manager Joey Hale and Bend North (Oregon) manager Steve Mora found themselves in a chess match over an intentional walk in the opening game’s decisive inning.

Mora went to issue an intentional walk with Bend North, the Northwest Regional champion, trying to close out a 2-1 victory in the bottom of the sixth inning.               

Hale “declined” the intentional walk, choosing to have Zach McWilliams swing at a 2-0 pitch that was well out of reach in order to try to get starting pitcher Zach Reynolds closer to the 85-pitch limit.               

With the count now 2-1, Mora changed his mind. He went for and got the first out of the inning.               

By using six pitches instead of four, however, Reynolds left the game one batter earlier than he would have and the Southeast Regional champions wound up rallying for a 3-2 win.              

“The kid was really, really good,” Hale said. “If he was going to walk him, that was four pitches. He was really close to 85 pitches. We were just trying to get a fifth pitch.”          

He would up getting a sixth pitch as well, something that won’t be possible with the new rule in place.               

“We’re trying to win,” Hale said. “It was just strategy.

“We were just trying to win the game.”

It was a strategy that Mora thought might be coming when he noticed conversations going on in the Goodlettsville dugout at the start of the at-bat. 

“Right away, I figured they might try to do it,” Mora said.         

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With the new rule in place, the option to turn down an intentional walk in the hopes of driving up pitch counts will no longer be available. This change means managers will not have to figure that into the equation in the future, eliminating an odd Little League situation that would be far less likely to happen on other levels of baseball where pitch limits are not an issue.               

A Little League Baseball press release explaining the rule changes did not mention the strategy, rather listed it as one of three changes involved in pace of play issues. The game will move quicker with simply sending a runner to first base instead of going through four pitches to make it happen.               

The other changes involve a batter keeping one foot in the batter’s box and clarifying limits on the use of special pinch runners.               

According to the release, starting in 2017, local leagues will have the option to mandate batters keep one foot in the batter’s box throughout their at-bat, barring eight exceptions provided in the rule book, during regular-season games. If the batter leaves the box or delays play and none of the exceptions apply, the umpire shall warn the batter. After one warning on a batter, the umpire can call a strike. Any number of strikes can be called on each batter.               

During tournament play, the rule is not optional. It will be mandated.               

Also during tournament play, starting in 2017, a team may utilize a player who is not in the batting order as a special pinch runner for any offensive player twice in a game, but only once per inning. A player may only be removed for a special pinch runner one time during a game. 

From GameChanger and Tom Robinson. Photo courtesy of Little League Baseball and Softball.