Time is Tight

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Mets

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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.

 

Missed Calls & The Battle for Instant Replay

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So you thought you had a rough week? Try being a Major League Baseball umpire. This week shone a giant light on the element of human error in the umpires and put more emphasis on instant replay. Let’s start with what went on in Cleveland Wednesday night.

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Adam Rosales of Oakland stepped to the plate against Cleveland’s Chris Perez with Cleveland leading 4-3. Rosales hit a blast to left center field and it looked like it hit off the railing in the seats and bounced back onto the field. The umpires called it a double, claiming it hit the wall. Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin came out to dispute the call, and the umpires reconvened to look at instant replay. After viewing the video(which was blatantly a home run)the umpires came back and the double held up. Melvin was infuriated and rightfully so, as the umpires have more than one angle they can look at the play from and have more than one feed for it as well, with both the Oakland and Cleveland broadcasts available. Somehow, the umpires still felt the ball hit below the top of the wall. Melvin was eventually ejected from the game and Oakland would lose by that 4-3 score.

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Major League Baseball declared the next day that it was an improper call made by Crew Chief Angel Hernandez, but the call would stand. But the story doesn’t end there. How can you screw up instant replay, especially when it seemed so obvious what the call should have been? Peter Gammons seems to think this was done on purpose as an objection to instant replay. Make sure you click and read that column. WOW! Now, Gammons doesn’t ever just throw out accusations like that, as it just isn’t his style. So for him to go out in a public forum and say that must mean there is a lot of validity behind that statement. So some of the umpires don’t want instant replay? I’m not shocked, but in the end we will get more instant replay. But Hernandez’s gaffe wouldn’t be the only one by an umpire this week.

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During Thursday’s Angels/Astros match up, Houston manager Bo Porter decided to make a pitching change in the 7th inning. He brought in reliever Wesley Wright, while Angels manager Mike Scioscia decided to use a pinch hitter to combat Wright coming in. Porter then called for another reliever to counteract Scioscia’s move, bringing in Hector Ambriz. The problem is by major league baseball rules that is a no-no.   Rule 3.05b says: “If the pitcher is replaced, the substitute pitcher shall pitch to the batter then at bat, or any substitute batter, until such batter is put out or reaches first base, or until the offensive team is put out, unless the substitute pitcher sustains injury or illness which, in the umpire-in-chief’s judgment, incapacitates him for further play as a pitcher.” To make a tad bit simpler, if you bring a pitcher into the game, he has to pitch to at least one batter before you can take him out and put in a new pitcher. This was, of course, Scioscia’s argument and led to a long heated debate between himself and the umpires. There is normally a four man umpiring crew, yet all four men in blue believed Porter could bring in another pitcher without Wright pitching to a batter. Think about that for a bit. The four guys who are in the game to uphold the rules didn’t know what the actual longstanding rule was! Scioscia would then protest the game, as it continued and eventually the Angels would win in spite of this entire mess.

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Major League Baseball reacted fast again, suspending Crew Chief Fieldin Culbreth for two games and fining Adrian Johnson, Brian O’Nora and Bill Welke. This is almost uncharted territory, as very rarely do umpires get suspended, especially for just a missed call. Granted, this was no normal missed call. But it does show that Major League Baseball is paying attention and realizes that umpires should be punished for their mistakes, just like players and coaches are. But the hot button topic that these two miscues seemed to have elicited is instant replay.

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Instant replay has been maybe the most discussed topic in baseball circles for years now, yet we still see very little actually used during games. The most widely discussed argument is that the human element has been used for years and the percentage of mistakes an umpire actually make are few and far between. There is truth in that statement, but it ignores the main issue that keeps the topic from continually popping up: the actual mistakes. It seems odd that in 2013, with the technology that is available nowadays, that baseball still hasn’t adopted instant replay. When people at home can EASILY tell when a call is blown, it makes no sense to not use the technology out there and make sure the umpires get the call right. It’s as simple as putting a 5th umpire up in the press box and giving him a very short amount of time to look at the play and render a decision. Why it isn’t as easy as that is a completely different conversation.

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So why are we still waiting on Major League Baseball to adopt full blown instant replay? There are two factors. One, Allan H. Selig and the rest of the good ole boys that are the major league owners are very old-school and don’t want to change with the times. Look, I’m an open minded traditionalist when it comes to baseball, but just since Selig has been in office, baseball has added the wild card, started interleague play and added a bit of instant replay. So that reason shouldn’t fly. No, the real reason is money. It cost extra money for the equipment. It cost extra  money for a 5th umpire. The NFL spends about $4 million a year on instant replay, while baseball has ten times the amount of games football does, it would knock that cost well into eight figures. But the sad part is baseball can afford it. Look at the recent TV deals. Baseball is swimming in money, so they have no excuse not to pony up the cash and equipment and make instant replay happen. It makes the sport look bad when everyone else can see what they choose to ignore. Unless somehow they get some sick pleasure from their umpires screwing up calls on a nightly basis. If that is the case, we might be waiting awhile.

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