MLB has many options available to them to improve pace of play, but Joe Torre and Rob Manfred are going about it in entirely the wrong way.
Baseball is to chess as football is to checkers. The NFL saw its television ratings decline last season, and the league was seemingly dumbfounded at the cause. Talk in both MLB and the NBA has been at increasing the pace of play in an effort to target both a wider and younger audience. While baseball and football may be dramatically different, the difference in how their respective premier leagues are handling lengthy games is equally noticeable.
In 2000, the average human attention span was 12 seconds. By 2015, the average attention span had dropped to just eight seconds, which means the average human cannot focus for longer periods of time than a goldfish (9 seconds).
This week, MLB announced further efforts to try to effectively improve the pace-of-play. Pitch clocks have been implemented in the minor leagues, and inning clocks were put in place at the major league level, but admittedly, more can be done to shorten the game we all love. The answer is not what was proposed by Joe Torre for two rookie leagues.
In placing a runner on second, MLB would be corrupting one of the purest aspects to the game, the stat book. After the league both turned a blind eye to and fought tooth and nail to end the steroid era, Rob Manfred’s actions would stand in stark contrast to Bud Selig’s efforts to purify the game. While it has not made it to the major leagues, yet, the extra-innings change would mark the first major change to the fundamental rules of the game since the designated hitter entered the American League in 1973. If you think everyone has finally accepted that, ask Bob Walk his opinion on the matter.
In 2016, 158 games went to extra innings. Eight games lasted 15 innings or longer. The problem is not with games going long. The problem with pace-of-play is the strategy plays which contribute little to the game and only work to slow the game down. Here are five solutions to improving pace of play, while maintaining the purity of the game.
Every trip by a coach, trainer, or teammate to the mound counts as an official visit.
Greg Brown says a lot of things better than most, but he has been the voice of reason on this issue for more than a year, running a subliminal social media campaign to get MLB to make this change. This change would make the biggest difference in the later innings, which perfectly coincides with the time when fans are the antsiest. Few things in baseball can be more aggravating than a reliever entering the game only to have a conference with the catcher before a trip to the mound by the manager one batter later for another reliever. If timeout has to be called in order to take a trip to the mound, it should be a visit. If a teammate is spending too long in between batters talking to the pitcher, a ball should be called.
Except in the event of injury, all pitchers must pitch a minimum of one inning.
Before getting too far into defending this change, the obvious exception to this would be in the event of a save situation. If MLB wants to control pace-of-play to shorten games, forcing a pitcher to complete the ninth inning would be counter-productive if it means more extra-inning games because of blown saves. Teams will likely still find a way to abuse this rule, but it would work hand in hand with limiting the first hypothetical rule change.
Baseball needs a play clock too.
When implemented, the pitch clock shortened the average Arizona Fall League game by 20 minutes. It proved to be so successful that it was implemented across the entire minor league system. It is past time MLB adopted the pitch clock. This is easily the most obvious change needed to keep the game moving at a regular pace. Not a whole lot of pitchers go over 25 seconds between pitches, so it might take some tweaking the time to make a difference without rushing pitchers and batters so much that the change would not be adopted by the player’s association.
Limit pickoff attempts.
Somewhere Jon Lester rejoices or is indifferent since he seemingly limits himself as it is. The strategy side to baseball teaches keeping runners close, especially those who make a living on their speed alone. Pitchers can abuse the strategy, and the fans, by throwing over repeatedly to keep a speedster at bay. If pickoff attempts were limited to one per at bat, it would keep the strategy element in place for the purists of when to use the pickoff, and it would keep the game moving.
Leave the strike zone as it is.
This was a toss-up between doing away with the DH entirely or shooting down a proposed change to the strike zone that would move the lower limit of the zone up approximately two inches to the top of the knees. I opted to look at the more likely of the two hypothetical changes. While moving the zone up would likely increase offense, something Manfred has been trying to find a way to do since being appointed commissioner, it would also be counter-productive to the mission of increasing pace of play. A smaller strike zone means more walks and more hits, which usually means hanging out a little longer down at the ballpark.
While none of these hypothetical changes are likely to happen, I feel it shows MLB has plenty of other options available to them to improve pace of play instead of targeting shortening games on the back end at the expense of pitcher statistics in a limited capacity.
Featured Image Credit – Associated Press