Maybe the major leagues can borrow from the more joyous fan experiences in Asia and Latin America, even at the risk of adding five minutes to the game. Maybe television broadcasts can shorten commercial breaks by adding ads to a corner of the screen during play. And, yes, maybe the players and coaches could cut back on the in-game caucuses.
“The stuff where nothing is going on – Yadi Molina is making his 93rd trip to the mound, or whoever the catcher is, I don’t mean to pick out a guy – dead time is an issue,” Manfred said.
That might be the relatively easy part of the change Manfred seeks. The much more challenging part involves accelerating action within the game itself, and the trial balloons have included restrictions on defensive shifts, altering the strike zone and limiting the use of relief pitchers.
Should Manfred really be legislating strategy? Teams now pay millions of dollars to baseball operations executives to devise clever and efficient ways to win. If a team believes its best chance to win includes a lineup of walk-prone, strikeout-prone sluggers that rarely put the ball in play, and an eight-man bullpen that makes four or five pitching changes per game a common occurrence, should that not be the team’s decision?
Nine-inning pastimes pulled off in less than an hour are rather rare, but not quite so scarce as hen’s molars. The first game of this kind was pulled off in Dayton, O., 32 years ago, when Dayton and Ironton hustled through a regulation contest in 47 minutes.
In the early days of baseball—the era of big scores—it was by no means unusual for a pastime to drag out through three or four hours.
A nine-inning baseball game that lasts three hours? That’s insane! Who could sit through that?
Accordingly, MLB over the last year has commissioned a pace-of-play study to help it better understand how its product is viewed by fans. And it has only reinforced that finding a solution to satisfy both will be at the heart of whatever changes do arrive within the next year.
There is a growing consensus, a half-dozen league, front office and player sources told Yahoo Sports, that the most effective fix would be a 20-second pitch clock. With a pitch clock already in place in the minor leagues and both between-innings and manager-replay-decision clocks ticking away at the major leagues, enough Pandora’s boxes are open to force the issue.
Whether the players will accede to MLB’s request for the clock remains unlikely – nearly half of union members, after all, are pitchers – but a compelling argument in favor of the clock exists: It might be the one substantial change that can significantly increase a game’s pace, cut back on its time and not aggrieve at least one side of the actual debate.
Baseball in 1976 was a bunch of guys throwing 86 and dialing it up to 91 now and again, pitching to a league where half the hitters couldn’t reach the warning track with two helpings at breakfast and an aluminum bat. Baseball in 2016 is beasts averaging 93 and then leaving after a couple of hours so beasts throwing 97 can go to work, taking on a league where everyone can turn around a fastball. Why, I mean, in the world, would we expect these two things to take anywhere close to the same amount of time? They are barely, just barely, the same sport. If you want baseball players in 2016 to play 2:30 games, then stop after seven innings.
You’ve probably seen the Grant Brisbee bit about why games are so long. He concludes, “Time between pitches is the primary villain.” He’s right, but it’s not because of sloth; it’s because baseball is a lot harder now. Baseball is harder now because the batters are bigger and stronger and the pitchers throw a lot harder, and they have things like cut fastballs. No one in that 1984 game had ever seen a 94-mph cut fastball. The presence of Dwight Gooden notwithstanding, no one had seen a 93-mph slider or a 90-mph changeup, praise Thor. Edinson Volquez was in that Brisbee piece, and no one thinks he’s any good, and he throws 93. It takes an extra tick or two to gear up to throw that kind of stuff, and it takes an extra tick or two to gear up to hit that kind of stuff.
Grant Brisbee watches an 1984 and 2014 game with the same score, the same # of pitches, the same # of pitching changes, and the same # of batters faced and figures out why the games are so damned long.
“Commercials aren’t the primary villain. They don’t help the pace of the modern game, but I figured that was going to be the half-hour difference right there, and the conclusion would be simple. But the 1984 game had 33 minutes and 13 seconds of commercials, and the 2014 game had 42 minutes and 36 seconds. Considering the times of the respective games, the older game actually devoted a similar chunk of their broadcast to time away from the action.”
B/R: You’ve talked about the need to create more action, and certainly the numbers support your desire. In the 2016 regular season, a record 30.2 percent of all plate appearances failed to produce a fair ball, instead ending in a strikeout, walk or hit batter. How much are you alarmed by this and where does adjusting the strike zone up stand?
RM: It’s not about whether or not we should change the game. The game has changed. The question is, should we be more like other professional sports and more actively manage that change to produce the kind of product we want to have out there on the field. Me? I’m one for active management of that change. I think it’s really important for us to look at.
Strike zones, great example of it. Years ago, we thought when the strike zone was higher on the knee that the low pitch wasn’t getting called. We moved it to the hollow of the knee to try to get the umpires to call that. Interesting thing happens: Technology gets laid on top of that, our umpire force starts to turn over, they all get used to being evaluated and all of a sudden, they’re actually calling it where we told them to call it. You can’t blame the umpires on this. They’re doing exactly what we told them, and the technology told them that they were doing what we told them to do. The problem with that pitch is, it’s tough to hit. So the question becomes do you make an adjustment? And honestly, if we moved it from the hollow of the knee up to where it was before, I think modern civilization is going to survive.
This graph seems to show that pitches thrown 30 seconds after the previous pitch get about one less expected strike per 100 calls than pitches thrown 10 seconds after the previous pitch. That’s not enormous, but it’s not nothing. Except that here, too, there’s a potential complication: With two strikes, the zone shrinks and pace tends to slow down. Thus it might appear that the zone gets tighter as pace increases, when really the count is responsible. In fact, if we redo the graph for pitches with zero strikes, one strike, and two strikes, the extra-strikes effect shows up only with zero strikes, as the following GIF reveals. It’s hard to come up with a reason why a quicker pace would improve the odds of a strike on zero-strike counts but not on one- or two-strike counts, so this effect too starts to seem insubstantial.
This topic sounds simple — Is it better to be quicker, or isn’t it? — but in light of all the subtle confounding factors involved, it’s tough to tie the research into a tidy package. What we can say is that based on these results, there’s no statistical smoking gun that proves that working quickly leads to demonstrably better defense or friendlier calls. Sorry, Rob Manfred: There are no numbers here to persuade pitchers to speed up.
According to an official statement released by the league on Thursday morning, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have agreed to a slew of modifications that have been approved to begin at the start of the 2017 regular season. In doing so, both parties are hoping that the changes will increase the pace of play of the game going forward.
Below is the full list of implementations that will go into effect next month, as announced by the league on Thursday morning:
The start of a no-pitch intentional walk, allowing the defensive team’s manager to signal a decision to the home plate umpire to intentionally walk the batter. Following the signal of the manager’s intention, the umpire will immediately award first base to the batter.
A 30-second limit for a manager to decide whether to challenge a play and invoke replay review.
When a manager has exhausted his challenges for the game, Crew Chiefs may now invoke replay review for non-home run calls beginning in the eighth inning instead of the seventh inning.
A conditional two-minute guideline for Replay Officials to render a decision on a replay review, allowing various exceptions.
A prohibition on the use of any markers on the field that could create a tangible reference system for fielders.
An addition to Rule 5.07 formalizes an umpire interpretation by stipulating that a pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is at least one runner on base, then such an action will be called as a balk under Rule 6.02(a). If the bases are unoccupied, then it will be considered an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).
An amendment to Rule 5.03 requires base coaches to position themselves behind the line of the coach’s box closest to home plate and the front line that runs parallel to the foul line prior to each pitch. Once a ball is put in play, a base coach is allowed to leave the coach’s box to signal a player so long as the coach does not interfere with play.
People keep looking for innovative ways to speed up the game, but baseball was played briskly for 100 years, so looking to the past may offer more answers. Specifically, we could look to April 16, 1993, when Mark Hirschbeck, a veteran umpire, decided there was someplace he would rather be than standing behind a catcher in San Francisco’s notoriously chilly Candlestick Park.
With two outs in the ninth inning and one strike against him, Atlanta’s Ron Gant called for time and stepped out of the batter’s box. Unfortunately for Gant, Hirschbeck did not honor the request. Gant defiantly strode away from the plate and Hirschbeck, who perhaps had movie tickets or a late dinner engagement, ordered Rod Beck to start pitching. The Giants’ closer was happy to oblige, firing in another strike as Gant frantically raced back to the plate. There were plenty of words exchanged, but Beck ultimately retired Gant on a pop-up to preserve a 1-0 victory.
Laugh all you want about the thought of pitchers letting things rip regardless of whether the batter is in the box, but that game was over in 2 hours 16 minutes, and Gant probably thought twice for the rest of his career about calling a timeout. — BENJAMIN HOFFMAN
Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.
Here’s what Mattingly had to say:
Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.
If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.
Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.
As part of its initiative to improve pace-of-game play, Major League Baseball has approved a change to the intentional walk rule, going from the traditional four-pitch walk to a dugout signal, team and union sources told ESPN’s Howard Bryant.
MLB has studied various ways to quicken games.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark reported earlier this month that MLB had made formal proposals to the players’ union to usher in both raising the strike zone and scrapping the practice of lobbing four balls toward home plate to issue an intentional walk.
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 saw the practice of lobbing four meaningless pitches as antiquated.
Sources told ESPN that MLB wants a 30-second time limit for managers to decide whether or not to challenge an umpire’s call and is currently discussing that limit, along with other possible changes to replay, with both the players’ and umpires’ unions.
The current rules say that, in most cases, managers must “immediately” inform umpires if they want to challenge a call. But in reality, there are often long delays as managers often wait for advice from their internal replay assistants before challenging.
Because negotiations are ongoing, it isn’t clear whether MLB will end up instituting a firm time limit or just a “guideline.” However, one source said he believes a limit is “likely,” unless there is unforeseen opposition.
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.
A derivation of the rule has been used in international baseball for nearly a decade and will be implemented in the World Baseball Classic this spring. MLB’s desire to test it in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Arizona League this summer is part of an effort to understand its wide in-game consequences – and whether its implementation at higher levels, and even the major leagues, may be warranted.
“Let’s see what it looks like,” said Joe Torre, the longtime major league manager who’s now MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer and a strong proponent of the testing. “It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.
Cut out the standing around. Put the pitch clock in. Get rid of all the extra songs played between innings. (Do we really need God Bless America, Sweet Caroline, and Dirty Water *every game* at Fenway?) Cut down the mound visits and put a time limit for pitching changes? Get the games back in the 2:30-2:45 range.
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.