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Monday, May 10, 2021

The State of Baseball: Inside the biggest questions MLB is facing with the future of the sport at stake

Major League Baseball is on a mission to reduce the amount of time it takes to play games. Under Rob Manfred, it’s been close to an obsession. Seven-inning doubleheaders, a three-batter minimum for pitchers, a runner on second to start extra innings—welcome to the only industry intent on persuading its consumers to enjoy less of its product. After all, who among us doesn’t want a raucous extra-inning game settled as quickly as possible by a clumsy schoolyard contrivance? Setting aside the particulars, there’s an inherent conflict: MLB is confusing time of game with pace of play, and its efforts at acceleration run opposite to the skills that teams are prioritizing and incentivizing.

You want to make big league money as a hitter? Hit homers, draw walks and don’t sweat the strikeouts. As a pitcher? Strike out as many guys as possible. The metrics employed by every front office dictate a style of play that leads to longer games. There are more pitches, fewer balls put in play and defensive shifts that take longer to set up and alter our perception of the game’s positions. Are these fundamental problems that threaten to ruin the game, or will they be forgotten as soon as the next wave of analytics decides contact hitters are the new market inefficiency? Either way, MLB is addressing a pace-of-play disease with time-of-game treatments, which puts baseball, once again, in a distressingly familiar position: at war with itself.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 10, 2021 at 06:37 PM | 25 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: labor relations, pace of play

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: May 10, 2021 at 08:31 PM (#6018157)
This is not promising. It's a long article, supposedly the first of a season-long look. I can't say I read every word but it's terrible. Many of the issues cited are trivial -- Howard Bryant thinks the key issue facing baseball is that one league has the DH and the other doesn't. Jeff Passan (normally a sensible guy) basically says "baseball needs to figure out what it wants to be and whatever that is needs to attract kids" ... which might be true but he offers no ideas. Buster Olney thinks they need to avoid a work stoppage -- fair enough but he offers no suggestions on how or even what the key issues are. Kiley McDaniel's bit which we're already discussing in another thread seems to suggest that baseball vastly underpaying young players is the cause of its "competitive balance issues" when it seems that (and a measly $200+ M in common and shared revenue) is what keeps the Rays, A's, etc. competitive and afloat.

We get Kurkjian writing: If a dominant pitcher such as Jacob deGrom doesn't make a mistake, hitters have virtually no chance of getting a hit. The value of the hit has been lost. The first one tells you why the second is true -- you're not gonna get many hits off deGrom no matter what ... so you better make sure the few you might get will cause the most damage. His "solution" is "hitters need to adapt." How? (By the way, the value of an in-play hit has always been trivial.) Even if hitters are capable of doing it, there is absolutely no reason to think that replacing 2 Ks and a HR with 3 BIP does a damn thing positive for the game.

Alden Gonzalez (no idea) at least tries to get concrete with "limit the number of pitchers on the roster." Alas, he doesn't propose a number or give any thought on what the consequences might be. Jesse Rogers chimes in with "ban the shift" because I guess somebody had to. He too seems to think that what baseball is missing is one GB single per game.

Even the guy given the plum pace of play gig (Tim Keown) is pretty useless. Here at least there are lots of ideas out there in the ether, most obviously the pitch clock. He makes the reasonable point above -- pace of play and time of game are not the same -- but his pace of play concerns? First, he says there are more pitches -- is this even true? Second he says shifts take a long time to set up. That's all he's got.
   2. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 10, 2021 at 08:35 PM (#6018158)
Major League Baseball is on a mission to reduce the amount of time it takes to play games. Under Rob Manfred, it’s been close to an obsession.
People keep saying this, and it’s nowhere near true.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: May 10, 2021 at 08:56 PM (#6018162)
Re my Kurkjian comments -- I don't mean to suggest the game today isn't different than the game of, say, 1985. But the key difference is 9.2 K/9 vs 5.4 K/9. The HR/9 rate is only 1.2 vs 0.9 so one extra HR per 3 team-games. H/9 is 7.9 vs 8.8, the one GB single (OK 1.2). The R/G are oddly identical.

The notion that we can get back to 5.4 K/9 if hitters would just stop swinging for the fences is fantastical in my opinion. I don't know how you rein in pitchers, but get the Ks down substantially first then tinker with reducing batter value.

If you want 1985 baseball, the 2021 White Sox are probably as close as you can get today.
   4. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: May 10, 2021 at 09:40 PM (#6018176)
It's not the to play the game, it's the time between pitches, and the fact that fewer and fewer at-bats end in anything except a strikeout. You want people to hit the ball, and field the ball, not just to swing as hard as they can and hope they hit a home run. Baseball is on a trajectory towards becoming golf, if golf had been reduced to a longest-drive contest.
   5. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 10, 2021 at 09:41 PM (#6018177)
(By the way, the value of an in-play hit has always been trivial.) Even if hitters are capable of doing it, there is absolutely no reason to think that replacing 2 Ks and a HR with 3 BIP does a damn thing positive for the game.

If only there were a HR for every 2 K's, we'd be in a much more interesting situation. Unfortunately the K / HR ratio is more like 8 to 1, not 2 to 1.
   6. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 10, 2021 at 09:52 PM (#6018180)
Bradford Doolittle has the suggestion that resonates the most with me:
There are six big league clubs in the states that share a border with Iowa. Any fan there who buys one of MLB's national broadcast packages to follow the sport can't watch any of them because of baseball's archaic blackout rules. Las Vegas is also blacked out from watching six teams, and that's a potential MLB expansion city. In Chicago, if you rely on streaming TV and use the wrong service, you can't watch the Cubs. In L.A., numerous fans still don't get Dodgers games.

All of this comes at a time when economic disparity is at historic levels and ticket prices at MLB ballparks grow increasingly expensive. To keep the foundation of the sport strong, baseball needs to get as many butts in seats and eyeballs on games as possible, even if it means loosening the grip on every short-term marginal dollar. This can't just be a sport played by and watched by the well-off. And the term "premium experience" needs to be stricken from every piece of MLB-related marketing material.

A-BLEEPING-MEN! This game needs a fresh supply of Bill Veecks, who may have been the last owner who paid the slightest bit of attention to the psyche of the average fan.
   7. The Duke Posted: May 10, 2021 at 10:30 PM (#6018186)
I went to a AAA game this weekend. 30 second clock. Most batters never stepped out between pitches. Game scooted right along. Not nearly as much shifting as in MLB. No replay. It looked good, felt good. So much better than the MLB product.

When a hitter hit one up the middle it was a hit.

Isn’t hard to fix - they don’t seem to want to.

I understand the reasons why people think the shift and replay are here to stay but they ruin the on the field product. And the pitch clock doesn’t change the game in any meaningful way like the 7 inning double-header rule and extra innings rule do.

I’ll concede that the DH is something that should be adopted though. But I’d like to see the version where you lose the DH when the starter comes out.
   8. winnipegwhip Posted: May 10, 2021 at 10:34 PM (#6018190)
I read the article and I agree with Walt Davis about it's quality.

It seems there was a draft amongst the writers on what topic each could focus on and Howard Bryant got the last pick. You cannot tell me that all those writers had different priorities when it came to their most important concern.
   9. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: May 11, 2021 at 07:22 AM (#6018211)
Do I need to say it again? Well, OK.

(1) Get in the damn box.
(2) Throw the damn ball.
   10. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 08:59 AM (#6018219)
Re my Kurkjian comments -- I don't mean to suggest the game today isn't different than the game of, say, 1985. But the key difference is 9.2 K/9 vs 5.4 K/9. The HR/9 rate is only 1.2 vs 0.9 so one extra HR per 3 team-games. H/9 is 7.9 vs 8.8, the one GB single (OK 1.2). The R/G are oddly identical.


Per [9], THE KEY difference is 25 seconds between pitches instead of 15. 2nd is the endless procession of RPs. The K-rate is a 3rd IMHO, but still should be addressed. Fixing the first two would go a long way to lowering Ks I think.
   11. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 11:40 AM (#6018250)
Yeah, games are longer than they used to be but honestly people wouldn’t notice or complain about the extra 15-30 minutes if it was 15-30 more minutes of action. The problem is that we’ve gotten longer games with *less* action (BIP). Focusing too much on length of games and not enough on pace/quality of play isn’t going to fix what’s really wrong.
   12. The Gary DiSarcina Fan Club (JAHV) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 12:19 PM (#6018260)
there is absolutely no reason to think that replacing 2 Ks and a HR with 3 BIP does a damn thing positive for the game.


Why not? If baseball is interesting because of all its component parts (pitching, hitting, fielding, and baserunning), the former scenario is half as interesting as the latter. It's not nearly that simple, of course, due to all the other variables. But in a vacuum, give me the three balls in play. That's how the game was designed to work.
   13. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 12:23 PM (#6018263)
Perhaps pitch clocks in the minors will condition players to move the game along, but now that in-game prop betting looms on MLB's doorstep and Big Gambling is quite possibly calling the shots on MLB rule changes, what baseball fans see as the sport's #1 bug, Rob Manfred sees as its #1 feature.
   14. JJ1986 Posted: May 11, 2021 at 12:53 PM (#6018269)
I sometimes will bet on individual baseball games (which is usually a bad decision, at least compared to football), but I cannot imagine betting on the results of a pitch. I would guess there's much more money for MLB's gambling partners in something like DFS.
   15. Buck Coats Posted: May 11, 2021 at 01:43 PM (#6018283)
Perhaps pitch clocks in the minors will condition players to move the game along


Well it's been in effect in the minors since 2015, so any conditioning clearly gets worn off once they hit the majors...
   16. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: May 11, 2021 at 01:46 PM (#6018284)
Ban batting gloves! That way hitters won’t be compulsed to fiddle with them.

Seriously, as others have said, batter, get in the box and stay there; pitcher throw the damn ball.

If the pitcher steps off the rubber, he must throw to an occupied base.

I still don’t like the DH, but I’ll compromise with either the DH for the starter only, or each pitcher who comes up in the order gets his own DH.

No runner in extras, no 7 inning double headers.

Umps get 30 seconds of viewing time to overturn on replays.
   17. The Honorable Ardo Posted: May 11, 2021 at 02:37 PM (#6018294)
Throughout history we've seen examples of players - catchers, base runners, pitchers - saying fast play puts pressure on the opponent. Even hitters arguing that a "first-ball fastball" approach counters the battery's intended pitch sequencing. Where have all these voices gone in the game?
   18. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 11, 2021 at 02:41 PM (#6018295)
I sometimes will bet on individual baseball games (which is usually a bad decision, at least compared to football), but I cannot imagine betting on the results of a pitch. I would guess there's much more money for MLB's gambling partners in something like DFS.

BITD a late bookie friend of mine used to hold court in the general admission section behind the plate, in the upper deck of Griffith Stadium. There'd be a couple of dozen customers around him, and he'd call out proposition bets before each and every pitch, with a big NO BETTING sign behind him, similar to the one behind the old Yankee Stadium bleachers. It was right in front of the press box, and the writers used to be highly entertained by the spectacle, although of course they never mentioned it in their newspapers. I heard this from the bookie himself, and it was confirmed to me by the Washington Post sports editor Marty Zad, who knew my bookie friend's reputation very well.

Oh, and all those little proposition bets added up to a big house in the Washington suburbs and college tuition for my friend's four children. He lived a lifetime of "crime", but he was about the most honest person I've ever known. Never once stiffed a winner, no matter how big the bet.
   19. McCoy Posted: May 11, 2021 at 06:04 PM (#6018358)
Cut 3 innings. Problem solved
   20. Tom Nawrocki Posted: May 11, 2021 at 06:22 PM (#6018365)
Seriously, as others have said, batter, get in the box and stay there; pitcher throw the damn ball.


My preferred rule change would be that once the batter takes his stance in the batter's box, the pitcher is entitled to throw a pitch at any time during that at-bat, until such time as the batter makes contact with the ball or the umpire calls time.
   21. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: May 11, 2021 at 06:56 PM (#6018367)
My preferred rule change would be that once the batter takes his stance in the batter's box, the pitcher is entitled to throw a pitch at any time during that at-bat, until such time as the batter makes contact with the ball or the umpire calls time.


Of course, not including foul balls where the batter takes off running.

I have toyed with the opposite question - what would be the way a batter could "demand" the batter pitch the ball? The only thing I could think of other than a pitch clock was based on practice swings, say, if the batter takes X practice swings (where X is 6? 7?) at a "normal" pace without the pitcher delivering the ball, the umpire must call a ball. It would be an interesting experiment to try. How about it, Atlantic League?
   22. Walt Davis Posted: May 11, 2021 at 10:07 PM (#6018436)
until such time as the batter makes contact with the ball or the umpire calls time.

No more strikeouts or walks then. :-) Imagine the pitch counts.
   23. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 12, 2021 at 10:54 AM (#6018517)
Cut 3 innings. Problem solved

Stupid. So we'll have 50% of the actual baseball action we had 30 years ago, and the games will still take 3 hours. The SP will be eliminated, and all modern stats will be meaningless in a historical context. LESS baseball action is never the answer.
   24. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: May 12, 2021 at 03:54 PM (#6018598)
Never once stiffed a winner, no matter how big the bet.


A gentleman scoundrel? I can dig it.
   25. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 12, 2021 at 04:25 PM (#6018607)
Never once stiffed a winner, no matter how big the bet.

A gentleman scoundrel? I can dig it.


I once put a $100 bet on the Raiders against the Vikings in the 1977 Super Bowl, then left town for two months before the game had begun.

When I got back, and parked my car and headed towards the pool room, he greeted me at the door and shook my hand with a $100 bill in it. We hadn't been in contact since the day I'd placed the bet.

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