Baseball Strategy

Dear MLB: quit trying to change baseball for the sake of change

I would be considered a new age fan. I care far more about a players wRC+ than their batting average. I have been outspoken about how the MLB needs to eliminate umpires calling ball and strikes. I don’t like pitchers intentionally hitting batters, and am all for player safety on the base paths.

But the two new MLB proposed rules? Pure and utter garbage.

In case you missed it, here are the two new rule proposals:

1. As part of its initiative to improve the 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, it was announced Wednesday. (ESPN)

2. Major League Baseball plans on testing a rule change in the minor leagues this season that automatically would place a runner on second base to start extra innings, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan. (SI)

Both of these rules have not been officially implemented yet in the MLB. The intentional walk rule has been approved by the MLB and the players union, and all signs point to this being implemented to start 2017. The runner on second base in extra innings rule is going to be tested during the World Baseball Classic and two MiLB leagues for possible future use in the majors.

Why? How do either of these new rules make baseball better.

The intentional walk rule is meant to help speed up the game. In 2016, there was literally one intentional walk in every 2.6 games. That is not going to make a bit of difference in terms of speeding up the game.

walk

The Reds for the most part are fine with the new rule. Drew Storen had this to say:

“I’m fine with it,” reliever Drew Storen said. “For me to have to waste four pitches then have to pinpoint the next one, it’s not the easiest thing in the world.” (Zach Buchanan, Cincinnati Enquirer)

Storen’s comments are exactly why this rule is silly. If an intentional walk can mess up a pitcher for the next batter, then that is the price of using one. Jason Kipnis of the Indians said that he has scored twice on a wild-pitch from an intentional walk. Those pitches might be meaningless most of the time, but not every time. The pitcher should have to throw the ball. It’s literally their job.

Now, the runner on second base to start extra innings. When is the last time a game went into extra innings and you changed the channel? Extra innings, especially a game that goes 15+ innings, provides some of the most exciting moments in a long baseball season. Managers having to juggle their roster, sometimes using a position player on the mound. That’s must see TV. It is perplexing that the MLB wants to radically change the game, and force a strange dilemma on how to calculate a relieves ERA for something that is already exciting.

It’s not like the MLB is dying either. The most recent MLB game played (Game 7 of the Cubs-Indians World Series) was the most watched game in 25 years. The MLB is coming off it’s 11th highest season in terms of attendance. In 2016, nine MLB teams had the No. 1 ranking across all TV networks in prime-time, and the contracts MLB teams are signing with cable providers are reaching insane levels.

That’s not to say the MLB should stay stagnate. The MLB should constantly be trying to evolve, and find ways to improve the game. However, unless a change is going to definitely improve the game, change for the sake of change is just silly.

75 thoughts on “Dear MLB: quit trying to change baseball for the sake of change

  1. Pretty much agree.

    Look, if they want to speed up the game, add a pitch clock. Stop the fidgeting and throw the ball. That seemed to work well in the minors, shortening games by 12 minutes.

    The NBA saved itself by adding a shot clock (true story, an NBA game before then wound up with a score of 18-19, because both teams would just dribble the ball all day). The NFL has a play clock. Why can’t MLB have a pitch clock?

    • They do have a pitch clock, but i can’t remember a time when the ump ever enforced it. There is also a “batter must stay in the box” rule. Both of these are good…if enforced.

      • Do they actually have pitch clocks? Like on the scoreboards so everyone can see it? This is what I mean, it needs to be front and center like the shot clock in basketball or the play clock in football. It also needs to be shown on television. It needs to become an essential part of the flow of the game so umpires and players can’t just choose to selectively ignore it.

        Games have been lost and won in basketball and football because of their respective clocks, when that happens in baseball, that’s when people will realize it’s serious.

  2. Many good points. I think your second to last paragraph is missing some important context:

    The average viewer of a World Series game is 57 years old. The average viewer of the NBA Finals is 35. Baseball audiences are overwhelming white and male. NBA audiences are more diverse and more affluent. The universe of advertisers for baseball is limited as 57 year old men long decided where they will bank, what beer they like and what truck they want to drive.

    Yes, Game 7 drew an insane number, but when the 3rd largest market in the country has 82% of all people watching tv tuned into the game it skewes the total. People weren’t watching baseball as much as they were watching history.

    The mega cable deal era is over. It peaked in 2012 and the possibility of future growth from subsequent contracts is limited. The Reds new deal was so bad they didn’t even reveal the total. Yes, MLBAM growths will help, but even that is slowing.

    Yes, attendance is near a record level, but it is only up 3% since 2000 and the US population has increased 14% since then.

    It’s a beautiful game, but it’s not particularly appealing to many people under 40. Boxing and Horse Racibg were once incredibly popular. Things change and baseball needs to understand they have a long term problem.

    • So Instituting two silly rules like this will solve the problem… How?

      • I don’t believe those 2 proposals will solve the problem…nor did I in anyway suggest that they would.

    • You raise compelling points, Chuck. I also don’t believe that the two proposed rule changes will help anything. They may be a misguided attempt to give the appearance of substantive action. I’m afraid that the problem is tied up with attention spans, and I’m afraid that your stats on the relative ages of sports fans supports my fear. I’m also afraid that I’ve crossed the line and am generalizing about younger people, but there it is. Would baseball still be baseball (and beautiful) if it were changed enough to appeal to young consumers?

    • The FC Cincinnati soccer team outgained the Reds on a Saturday in attendance in September. That was unimaginable 5 years ago. The baseball demographics are a big deal. I think the Reds FO realizes.

  3. Rule #2 is such a gimmick to which I am utterly and vehemently opposed! Who came up with this lunacy? NASCAR and F1 tried a bunch of gimmicks and it has turned me off completely along with many others. I fear that if MLB were to institute the runner on second nonsense, it could have similar ramifications.

    • Furthermore, the runner on second rule eliminates the need for a deep bench. Most likely, you’ll never run out of pitchers or position players, since games will rarely go beyond 11 innings.

  4. I disagree that the changes are “for the sake of change.” To the contrary, there’s a very specific goal involved with both changes — shortened games. And there is a very specific reason behind that goal — appeal to younger generations. Trust me: MLB and other major sports leagues are doing extensive market research to find out what the games need to do to evolve and maintain relevance for decades to come.

    This doesn’t mean that I necessarily support the changes (#1 seems like no big deal at all, but #2 is a bit drastic, which is why I’m glad they’re simply testing it out, and I doubt it gets implemented in MLB). I just reject the notion about “changing for the sake of change.” There’s a method to the madness.

    • So, like the tiebreaker in Tennis? I don’t like the rule because now you get a runner on base, when that is one of the hardest things to do to score a run. Why second base? Why not first base? A little harder to score from there, plus you can set up the double play.

      Pretty soon we’ll have something like a hockey shootout or PKs… Ugh.

    • Shorter games, but I remember reading (Sports Illustrated, probably) that the average football game is as long as the average baseball game and has slightly less actual action (camera pans to helmeted behemoths standing in a circle and catching their collective breath). MLB could try a rule requiring that a runner, upon approaching a base, must defeat the defender in a brief MMA fight to take the base. More noise. More violence. More distraction! Give me time, and I’ll fix what ails the grand old game.

      • And music between every pitch, right up to the point where the pitcher goes into his windup!!

      • Even the immensely popular NFL is looking at ways to shorten their games.

        Your absurd example doesn’t shed any light on the situation, IMO.

        • It was absurd, and it wasn’t seriously proposed. It was hyperbole intended to emphasize my suspicion that shortening the games by–usually–a few minutes will do little to alter the demographic problem that baseball has. On the bright side: Most of the young people who aren’t paying attention to baseball will eventually be 57 years old.

  5. Baseball shouldn’t impose change just for the sake of change. But fans shouldn’t oppose change just for the sake of opposing change.

    Nick doesn’t fall in this category, but I’ve seen knee-jerk opposition to almost every change in baseball that is suggested.

    A few years ago, when baseball was thinking about a rule that would stipulate teams had to play two infielders on each side of second base (trying to minimize the impact of the defensive shift), you would have thought that rule was from Mars. When, in fact, baseball rules already determine exactly where the pitcher must stand, exactly where the batter has to stand, exactly where the catcher has to play and also has fairly narrow lanes drawn where the players can run the base path.

    Whether one is for or against doing something about defensive shifts, it’s not like that kind of rule would be unprecedented. Look at the merits of change.

  6. Honestly, in a few months, I don’t think anyone will care about the IBB change, nor will they miss it. It’s a non-event, IMO.

    It won’t shorten the game much, it won’t hurt anything, and it won’t help anything. It’s people doing stuff just to do stuff.

  7. I hate long extra-inning games. I hate attending them. I hate watching them on TV. I hate waiting to write about them online. When I’m at a night game, I almost never stay if it goes into extra innings, because it could go 14-15 innings. It would please me to no end if the “start on 2B” rule caused most extra-inning games to end in 10 or 11 innings.

    You might like watching 18-inning games where position players have to pitch or Dusty Baker destroys Aaron Harang’s arm. I don’t.

    This rule proposal strikes me as analogous to college football adopting overtimes rules like starting possessions on the 25 yard line. Lots of people thought that would change college football as we know it. No punts, no kickoffs in overtime. But college football is more popular than ever now. I’d tweak the rule to make it harder to score, like starting possessions on the 35 (or progressively farther out). But it’s the same kind of rule as baseball is proposing.

    • The college football rule was because everybody and their mother hated to see a game end in a tie.

      • Yes, but there are different kinds of OT rules. See the NFL. College football adopted a rule – start on 25 yard lines – they thought would prevent really long games. And point is that knee jerk reaction that it would ruin college football was wrong.

          • If you like the NFL’s OT, would you support a rule in MLB where the batting order was coin-flipped and if the visiting team won the flip and scored a run, the home team didn’t get to bat?

          • Only an extremely small fraction of NFL OT games are settled with a TD on the first drive. Since the latest rule change, I believe it’s less than 10%.

    • I get the impression watching extra inning games that hitters press, trying to end the game with their at bat, instead of taking their normal approach. It is amazing how long it takes them to end a game sometimes.

      IF they change, and I am not advocating it, I would change the outs in extra innings. One method would be to have four outs in the 10th, five in the 11th, etc. (It might backfire in the 15th, when both teams have 9 outs and each scores 31 runs.) If they do change the regular-season extra innings rule, I would not want it in post-season.

      The major problems are slow-working pitchers, and hitters with “routines” that entail endless glove-fixing and stepping out of the box.
      1. Minor league umps need to force faster play, so that young guys never turn into Steve Trout or Mike Hargrove.
      2. The present MLB umps just need to enforce the rules early and often in April and May. They can call a ball when a pitcher doesn’t deliver a pitch, and they don’t have to allow hitters to do their nonsense. Any player or manager who argues about this is ejected. Pitch quickly, and get ready to hit.
      3. For every time a pitcher steps off the rubber with a guy on base, he would be precluded from throwing to a base for the rest of the AB.
      4. It wouldn’t change the universe if in regular season games, a relief pitcher had to face two hitters and not just one. I could see where the LOOGY Union would object to that .

      • “3. For every time a pitcher steps off the rubber with a guy on base, he would be precluded from throwing to a base for the rest of the AB”. ……………………………….so then once he has stepped off once you basically are giving the runner the next base?

    • They actually do this in some youth/travel tournaments…so the tourney isn’t held up by 1 game. It’s fine…Actually increases the excitement and pressure of each pitch/play. Practically. I would say play the 10 th inning as is….Then start in the 11th with 1 out and last batted out on second as the runner. I wouldn’t be opposed.

      • Granted this rule is from youth softball, but when I coached the little kids (7 and under), every batter got 6 pitches. Coaches were pitching, so it was on you to get the ball over the plate and there were no walks. Another rule was that with two strikes, you could foul off one pitch, but if you fouled off another, you were out.

        At the end of the day, the rules for the kids were really designed to prevent a couple of late bloomers from dragging a team down (and nobody ever “struck out”, so it sort of leveled the playing field from a self-esteem standpoint). The side effect though was that we could reliably get through 6 innings in 1.5 hours even with the circus that ensued when the ball was actually put in play.

        I suppose the pitch count mafia would love a pitch cap for at bats especially in long games (and those that really don’t want to watch the position player at the end of the bench throwing three innings of “relief”). There is also the havoc that those games play on the pitching rotation for the next week or so. I would have mixed feelings about the foul ball rule if it or something like it was instituted though; there is something fascinating about watching a matchup of a great hitter and control pitcher trying to outwit the other. Picture Joey V. against Greg Maddox in his prime with BHam on second…

        I don’t know if you could convince people to accept that drastic of a change to basic rules of the game (balls and strikes are probably inviolable); but on the other hand it would bring another element of strategy and excitement as pitchers wouldn’t really be able to pitch around anybody any more. I’m kind of with Steve M. in the sense that I don’t like to see things drag out interminably, but I also agree with Nick in that watching unusual matchups that will occur in those long games do provide an undeniable bump in interest.

        That’s just my opinion; YYMV.

        • You raise a good point: We are, most of us, Votto admirers, and his very selective, deliberate style can result in lengthy at-bats. These are generally fascinating to watch and emblematic of the way tension builds in a baseball game, and probably boring to people who don’t follow the game closely.

    • I’m also not a fan of extra-inning games, and especially during the week. I have to get up early for work and even making it through a 9 inning game on a weeknight can be tough for me. I had gotten an e-mail from the Reds (I think it was from them) asking about my thoughts on different starting times for games. I noted that a 6 or 6:30 start would be just fine with me but a weeknight start later than 7:00 would result in my attending fewer games.

  8. And if you think there’s some grand (or any) value in making pitchers throw four pitches outside the strike zone to give the opposing team a free base, there’s no helping you. 🙂

    • My old over-30 recreational league games had the automatic IBB. All the pitcher had to do was get the plate-umpire’s attention and point to 1B. “Hey Blue…” Then pitcher points to 1B. Umpire says to the batter “Head on down to first, they just walked ya.”

    • No! No! No! Pete Rose once got a game winning hit against the Giants in Candlestick on an attempted intentional walk. The pitch came too close to the plate and Pete reached out and looped it for hit. That one black swan event has made all of the silly intentional walks worth it.

  9. The IBB rules is fine, like Patrick said above, it is not affecting the game flow at all. Rule #2 is just absolutely insane IMO. I know when I go to games, I root for extra innings. What would I rather be doing than being at a MLB ballpark watching baseball? Most of the guys that are complaining about the length of games, are the writers.

    • I disagree on who is complaining about long games. A whole lot of sports fans don’t watch baseball because it can devolve into watching paint dry, for those who are not huge fans like we are. With runners on base, the action can be VERY slow. In a typical sequence Tim Adelman will hold the ball on the mound, step off, use his “B” move to throwing to first, then a better move, then hold the ball longer again, step off, then another throw to first, all for Ben Zobrist, who isn’t likely to run in any event with Anthony Rizzo on deck. By the time the count is 2-2, with of a couple of foul balls, the at-bat has taken 8 minutes, and it is a major reason why younger people don’t watch like they used to.

      Add in all the nonsense stepping-out-of the-box routines, and the game is easily 30 minutes longer than it needs to be. It wouldn’t make “Casablanca” better to have Bogart take 3-4 seconds between every word of “Here’s looking at you, kid.” And it doesn’t make baseball better to have a 2:25 game take 2:55.

      Take some time to watch video of, say, the 1967 World Series on You Tube. The game was played at the correct pace then. No nonsense. But better.

      • You’re right, Big5Ed, or, at least, I mostly agree with you as far as what I’d like to see, but it bears repeating: football games are as long and have no more action, so I’m not so sure that the elapsed time is the issue as much as the perception.

      • Just reread your “Casablanca” example, and, while you wouldn’t want Bogie or Bergman pausing between every word, I doubt that you’d want the movie distilled to just the action, eliminating most of the words and the interactions. I’m not rigidly opposed to change (just kidding) but I believe that the change needs to carefully considered and avoid altering the essential character of baseball.

      • @ BigEd – I have watched the 75 Series on DVD. The pace of the game is remarkable. Any normal person can see that the time between pitches is the most time consuming thing from back then to present day.

        I compare it to free throws in the NBA now. After a make or a miss, the shooter MUST high five his other teammates before attempting the 2nd free throw. Older videos. Shoot, ref gives the ball and shot #2 is done swiftly.

  10. Remember win Bill Bray couldn’t throw an intentional ball??? He’d sure welcome this rule….lol

  11. Taking out between inning breaks, It appears that 1.85 pitches are thrown per minute of actual game time….so 1 pitch every 32 seconds.

    About 80% of pitches are not hit, so a typical game will have about 250 pitches not hit and about 50 that are hit. If the pitch clock were enforced in the same way as a football play clock or basketball shot clock then you likely speed up an average game by 30 minutes…..which brings you in line with basketball and faster than the NFL.

    • This is the most logical fix for those that want the pace of play increased without ruining the integrity (man on 2nd in extras) of the game.

  12. I have no problem with the IBB rule, but it won’t shorten the game at all. I agree that MLB needs to stop their “tweaking” and get to something substantive like the computer/robot called strike zone. That will drastically change things and likely speed up the pace.

    Then again, I’m just an old-school fan … what do I know?

  13. Baseball isn’t necessarily trying to shorten the game. What they are trying to do is lessen the amount of time where literally nothing is happening. Stop standing around on the mound doing nothing but breathing. Stop stepping out of the batters box to adjust your batting gloves. Stop spending 30 seconds to throw four pitches at 80 MPH three feet out of the strikezone.

    They want less time of nothing and more time of something. While I absolutely, without question, agree that the intentional walk thing isn’t doing much at all to impact the pace of play, it’s also not something that’s going to change anything for the bad. I’m sorry if you miss out on that one play every three years where someone slaps a single on an intentional ball or the pitcher throws it by the catcher and someone scores on it. That’s not enough to not make the rule change.

    I think the runner at second base thing is going to get no traction. It’s been used internationally for quite a while. People hate it.

    But, I think we are going to see things coming to the Majors in 2018 like the pitch clock they’ve been using in the minor leagues for a few years at AA/AAA. It has sped up the pace of play and shortened games. It also applies to hitters who hang outside of the batters box too long. It helps a little bit.

    If baseball really wants the pace to pick up though, they’ve got to figure out how to get batters to make more contact. Pitching is simply too good these days. There’s a lot of non-contact that’s leading to a bunch of non-action. I don’t know that there’s a rule change that would actually work, that baseball would actually go for here. Maybe it’s just a matter of letting the hitters catch up, somewhat, to the new things. The more they come up facing elite velocity from everyone, the more they’ll be able to handle it. Eventually, we’ll get there. It’s just going to take some time.

  14. The commercials in between innings is the first place to start in shorting game times. Take one 30 second commercial away for each half inning and that is 9 minutes shaved right there. Over 90% of MLB games are broadcast on teams’ local networks, so that revenue can be easily made up with those commercials being shown in the pre-game and post-game portions of teams’ broadcasts. For ESPN and other national telecasts, T-O-U-G-H.
    Reduce the number of pitches a relief pitcher gets after coming in from 8 to 4 or 5. They should be ready to go when they come in.
    In the late innings 7 thru 9 and x-tras, reduce the number of times a C can go to the mound without a manager or pitching coach from unlimited to one per inning.
    Nothing radical, just common sense measures.
    And if you want to go a little radical, bring back the golf carts with baseball hats for relievers when they come in. That will save a few seconds.

    • If you eliminate 30 seconds of ad time per inning then you’re reducing the inventory by 25%. The ratings for pre/post game baseball telecast are about 10% of the actual game so it would be impossible to make up the revenue. Do you think teams want to reduce their media revenue by 10-15% (we’re talking millions) so they can shave 4 minutes off a game?

      MLB doesn’t call the shots with ESPN and Fox…MLB does what it’s told. Besides having zero leverage, MLB is contracturally obligated to provide “x” amount of in game ad time as pre game, post game time is borderline worthless.

      Lastly, even if MLB, Fox, ESPN and the local distributors all agreed, the MLBPA would need to agree as it’s both a material change to the game itself and would cause a major decrease in local and shared revenue. Guess how that conversation would go?

    • Decrease ad time between innings, and ads WILL appear on Jerseys and Caps…

  15. I dont know if I like the runner on second base in an extra inning game but I think you are wrong about intentional walks. There is no reason at all to have a pitcher make four soft throws to the catcher. It would speed up the moment and generally save time. It is a very good improvement to the overall game.

  16. What if MLB mimicked the NHL with their overtime sequence. This is how it would translate. Play the 10th inning normally. If there’s still a tie, have baseball’s version of a shootout: a homerun-derby style hitoff. Three players from each team are selected. Each player gets one swing to hit a homerun off a BP fastball (just like the homerun derby). The teams alternate hitters until there’s a winner.

    • Are those official stats then? If they go into the run total don’t they have to be? Does it add to the pitchers ERA?

  17. The new intentional walk accomplishes nothing, I see no need to change the rule or any reason to keep the old one. Starting a runner on second base in extra innings is something we do in High School softball (called international tie breaker. The first two extra innings are played just like the previous 7, then in 10th inning each team gets to start a runner on second. What happens is usually the first batter will sacrifice the runner to third and try to get the runner in by ground out or sac. fly. It does not necessarily shorten the game. I worked a playoff game several years ago that went 14 innings.

  18. I don’t really care for the idea of starting extra innings with a runner on second. I don’t think the intentional walk rule will be a big change but anything that eliminates non-action time in the game is a win in my book.

    I have also heard the stat that was mentioned earlier that the average baseball game takes the same amount of time and has the same amount of “non-action” time as the average football game. I’m curious though, as to what is considered “action” and “non-action” time in each sport.

    The worst part of an NFL game is the typical sequence after a touchdown which is often something like: commercial, extra point, commercial, kickoff for a touchback, commercial before the offenses and defenses come back on the field. The extra point and kickoff might technically be considered “action time” but in my opinion that really makes for 7 or 8 minutes of dead time between the touchdown and the next meaningful snap.

    Similarly in an MLB game: Does every pitch or throw over to first count as “action”? Because to me, and I think many people, an at bat where the pitcher throws over to first 3 times as the count goes full before the batter eventually walks. That might be “action” but is not very exciting.

    • I’m sure that every pitch and throw to first is counted and, no, that’s rarely exciting. Neither is a running back carrying into the middle of the line for no gain particularly exciting. Lots of things aren’t very exciting, and a few things are. Chess is not exciting to the average observer. We may be back to attention span issues, and, if so, that’s a hard fix. Somehow reducing the game to the few minutes of exciting action would hold some viewers for a awhile, but I imagine that they’d get jaded and move on to something else. The real competition for all sports is almost certainly those little screens that everybody but me carries and peers at endlessly.

  19. If given “truth gas” I think most managers would tell you that they would rather lose in 9 innings, than win in 18; due to the lasting effects on the bullpen.

    How about after 12 innings, you start counting “bases obtained?” (Though runs would still trump “bases obtained” in the event runs are scored).

  20. What is the target area for length of a game? So if they are wanting to shorten games the logical answer is shorten the game! instead of 9 innings make it 6 or 7.

  21. Well the runner on second base is like college football starting on the 25 in overtime.
    Hard to see that changing much. Makes it more likely both teams would score.

    I am surprised that with all the talk about needing more offense in baseball no one has mentioned outlawing the shift. It takes away a lot of hits. Not something I personally care for

  22. I’m pretty sure I read a statement from MLB saying the runner on second in extra innings is not under consideration for use in the majors. The reason they are implementing it in some minor leagues is to prevent young developing pitchers messing up their arms in a long extra innings affair.

  23. I think that the intentional walk rule is fine. Like you said it doesnt happen that much so i dont think it will be that big of a deal. One of the problems with the runner on 2nd base to start extra innings is how will that effect stats. Does the person on 2nd get a boost to his on base percentage? When he scores does he get creditied with a run scored? Does the person who bats him in get an RBI? I know that stats might not matter to most people but just a thought. Thanks for the post.

  24. I don’t care about the IBB rule, and don’t think it will have any effect on game time, and it might eliminate one quirky play per season that would be a Sports Center highlight, but whatever.

    I hate the concept of starting an inning with a runner on base. I would rather play 11 innings and if the game is tied, so be it. Who says we need a winner every time?

  25. From what I understand, the day the commissioner announced the rule change Texas A&M won a game on a wild pitch during an intentional walk. I thought that was kinda cool.

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