It was hard this past week to go anywhere without hearing about MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and his disappointment with the MLB Players Union on shaking up some of the rules to help the pace of play in baseball. It appears that Manfred was hoping for a major change for this upcoming 2017 season:
“Unfortunately, it now appears there really won’t be any meaningful rule change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA,” Manfred said.
The one change that appears to be the most likely is eliminating pitchers actually throwing pitches in an intentional walk, instead having the manager signal from the dugout that they want to place the batter on first. It’s been covered ad-nauseam, but essentially this would be a non-issue when it comes to cutting time in a baseball game, especially considering how few intentional walks there are any more. With that being said, I thought we could look at a few possible changes that could help speed up the game and obviously make it more accessible to the leisurely fan, as most of us diehards aren’t majorly bothered by the pace of the game.
The most immediate solution to speed up the game would be speed up the process of instant replay. There was some talk for a while that baseball would look into setting a hard time limit on managers for making a decision on whether or not they want to go back and look at a play, but in my mind that is not where the major issue lies. The amount of time it took for replays last year did fall (on average it was about 1:36, compared to 1:51 in 2015) but we can all agree that we have sat through some replays that feel like they take hours. I am all for getting the play called correctly, but I also tend to think that if they added another person in their replay booth back in New York, maybe it could speed up even more. I tend to think this wouldn’t drastically improve the pace of play, but it might end the replays that feel like everything has ground to a screeching halt.
Another rule that could speed things up would be limiting the amount of mound visits in an inning. Obviously this would mean you would have to count any mound visit, whether it be by a catcher, a pitching coach, a manager or just a random player. I actually wouldn’t have an issue with this, as sometimes the visits can drag on (I’m sure an umpire or two would agree with this). That being said, I don’t think they should limit how many pitching changes a team can make per inning. As much as I am not a fan of 20 million pitching changes in an inning, I also don’t think a limit should be imposed on a team. Part of the natural flow of baseball is that you never quite know what moves a manager is going to make from inning to inning. If a manager wants 3 pitchers to each get an individual out in an inning, there shouldn’t be a rule that says he can’t do that. Maybe something where there is a limit on non-pitching change mound visits but none for actual changes? I’m just spitballing here, but the point is to limit the amount of tedious visits to the mound in an inning, which could speed up the game.
What about some other possibilities that have been thrown out there?
Pitch clocks-Don’t have an issue with this. As long as it’s reasonable I would be game for it.
Banning infield shifts-Stupid. The issue isn’t shifts, it’s batters who aren’t adjusting to the shifts being put into effect when they are batting. Want shifts to go away? Start hitting the ball to the opposite field. I have no idea how this would save time in a baseball game, as the initial reasoning was to produce more offense, which would more than likely mean a longer game…which by my count would mean NOT saving time.
Having a runner start extra innings on second base-I almost feel like I shouldn’t acknowledge this, but it has been mentioned. I know sometimes extra innings can feel like a drag, but extra innings also add more drama and intensity to the game. I would hate to see this go away just to save a little bit of time. Could you imagine Game 7 of last year’s World Series, starting the 10th inning with a runner on second? Horrible, horrible idea. Let’s hope this one never sees the light of day.
One final solution to speeding up the game has been the expansion of the strike zone. I actually am totally on board with this, as it has felt like for the longest time that the zone has shrunk. Obviously, the above graph says otherwise, although over the last few years it has appeared as if the strike zone has gone lower, with the low strike getting called more than the high strike. That being said, many have long felt as if the zone is determined by individual umpires, as some have a bigger zone than others. I would tend to think if you expanded the zone (and I do mean expand, not make it more lower than higher) you will get more batters swinging at the dish. While strike outs are currently up around Major League Baseball, I tend to wonder if they would go down if the batters are swinging earlier in the count and not taking as many pitches. Out of all the ideas that have been tossed out there, this one has the best legs and could really give the game more action as well, as more balls would be in play. All of these items are what Manfred is looking for and honestly, I would rather see a fly out or ground out than another strike out. The game could very well see a drastic change if this happened and could really open up a whole other world of possibilities.
So is there a real problem with baseball and the pace of play? To a degree, of course. It’s not every game and it’s not just one move or action that does it, but yes, there is a slight pace of play issue with baseball. It’s nothing that most of us would gripe about, but us “Seamheads” aren’t the only people watching baseball games. I feel as if Major League Baseball and the MLBPA should always be looking for new ways to improve the game and make it as viable as humanly possible. That being said, I also don’t think you should just go and change rules for the sake of changing rules. If a rule need a minor tweak or an adjustment, I believe that is exactly what should be done. The other aspect of this is that baseball is a free-flowing game that has no time limits and can range on the amount of time it can take to finish up. I would hate to see part of that go away just to knock a few minutes off of a few games. Should the players union be more open to changes? Yes. Should Rob Manfred slow himself down and not just assume that major changes need to happen? Of course. The game of baseball is a truly great thing and if you are immensely in love with it you accept it, warts and all. Not one answer will solve all the problems and not all problems need immediate attention. I would much rather see baseball address the issues but not make changes until they have a solid solution that most parties can all agree on. Baseball is definitely not broken, but a few minor touch-ups could make it even better than it is now.
I like the concept of a pitch clock but would have to see the details and mechanics of it. Hitters like Cain drive me crazy stepping out after every pitch to rewrap their batting gloves, etc. On the other hand, if you limit this you also have to do something about pitchers who stall, shake off, step off the rubber and ask the catchers to run through the signs again. If a clock eliminates all this — great, but it could effect the outcomes in high leverage situations where the pitcher and catcher legitimately might not be on the same page but have to throw a pitch anyway due to clock.
Maybe the best solution here is to leave it alone at the major league level but institute it rigidly in the minors, conditioning players to play faster and hope it carries over when they matriculate.
I believe that is why they have already instituted pitch clocks in the minors, with the belief that by the time they get to the majors they will be used to it and at that point it would be less of an issue to institute it at the major league level.