Major League Baseball plans on testing a rule change in the lowest levels of the minor leagues this season that automatically would place a runner on second base at the start of extra innings, a distinct break from the game’s orthodoxy that nonetheless has wide-ranging support at the highest levels of the league, sources familiar with the plan told Yahoo Sports.
Spring training has begun, and there’s been a lot of talk for a couple of years about baseball games getting too long. For what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s a problem.
The theory goes that games are too long and so people aren’t wanting to stay at the park or watch on TV. So they talk about limiting pitching changes, pitch clocks, and limiting visits to the mound by the catcher, among other things. I can understand why a casual fan is getting lost or bored in many moments, but much of what they’re suggesting right now won’t do much to change the pace of the game. Here’s the three things I’ve heard the most about lately (see link above for video/story):
- Start with a player on 2nd base during extra innings.
- Eliminate the Intentional Walk (IBB or IW)
- Shrink the strike zone
The first one seems insane to me. Once a game has gone to extra innings, it’s going to be longer than normal. I know this rule is getting tested out in the minors and it’s been used in international softball before, but it makes the game entirely different. Statistics notwithstanding (is the runner an earned run for the pitcher if he gives up a base hit?) it makes even less sense than settling a tie in soccer with a shootout. Why not just have ties in baseball until the post-season if you’re going to do that?
Eliminating the IBB has a lot of traction, but I still hate it. First of all, it doesn’t save that much time:
Getting rid of the old-fashioned intentional walk would eliminate about a minute of dead time per walk. In an age in which intentional walks actually have been declining — there were just 932 all last season (or one every 2.6 games) — that time savings would be minimal. But MLB sees the practice of lobbing four meaningless pitches as antiquated, so eliminating them would serve as much as a statement as it would a practical attempt to speed up the game.
Secondly, it means that the pitcher is saved the small chance of a wild throw (which does happen) which again, changes the game. I’m all for speeding things up, but this doesn’t do it at all, and so I’m vehemently opposed to the change.
The third idea, shrinking the strike zone, may have some merit to it. I don’t think it’s easy to implement, though, unless they’re ready to go to a computer calling balls and strikes. How do you get experienced umpires to change what they’ve been doing? And telling pitchers that have been trained over and over to keep the ball down at the knees or below? Not to mention the owners who have invested in pitchers to the tune of millions of dollars who now are walking players instead of striking them out. In the short run I think this will actually lengthen games, not speed them up.
I have some ideas on potentially better plans to speed the game up a little, but I’m going to leave that for another post. We’ll see what the MLB does on these three pretty soon, I’d imagine, perhaps as soon as the 2017 season for the bottom two.