Since Rob Manfred became Commissioner of Major League Baseball two years ago, pace-of-play has been one of his major focus points. He thinks that games are too long, and shortening them would help appeal to younger viewers. Manfred has talked about pace-of-play a lot, most recently on MLB Network on Friday morning:
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) January 20, 2017
Here’s what he said:
“I think when you think about changes, right, there’s sort of a continuum. There’s things that move the game along without changing the competitive posture. Things like keeping your foot in the box, maybe fewer warmup pitches for a relief pitcher, sending a guy to first base as opposed to throwing — it doesn’t change the competition. I really do believe a pitch clock is in that category. It is a constant reminder to players that they need to move it along. Most pitchers throw within 20 seconds anyways, but it just is that reminder to move things along.”
There are some good and bad things in what Manfred said. Having a batter keep his foot in the box between pitches isn’t a bad idea, and it was implemented in 2015. However, it hasn’t really reduced the overall length of baseball games in any significant way over time. Game length was reduced the first season the rule was in place, but it went right back up the following year. Considering the sheer number of things that can lengthen or shorten a baseball game, that rule probably didn’t make as big a difference as people thought it did.
Fewer warmup pitches for relievers sounds good in theory, but in practice it’s worrying. For a pitcher, warming up their arm isn’t necessarily an art, it’s a science. If adjusting the number of pitches a reliever throws off the game mound could adversely effect their arm in any way, I think that’s a good reason not to do it. And those warmup pitches really don’t take a lot of time. There’s not much to gain from making that change, unless Manfred wants to get rid of those warmup pitches altogether (bad idea).
Sending a guy to first base for an intentional walk instead of throwing four pitches is a legitimately good idea. It would save at least 30 seconds (if not more) every time it happens (though it doesn’t happen too often), and it would prevent a pitcher from having to throw four more times then he needs to. It could save a full minute (as opposed to mere seconds like some of Manfred’s other ideas), and it would save unnecessary pitcher effort.
A pitch clock, though, seems excessive. I can see his reasoning behind it, and shaving a few seconds off every pitch could possibly add up in the end. But Manfred himself admitted that most pitchers don’t take more than 20 seconds to throw a pitch once they get the ball back. Manfred is proposing a relatively massive and intrusive change for pitchers, and it’s only aimed at reining in a small number of them. It doesn’t seem like that would help pace-of-play issues that much. Plus, giving pitchers a constant reminder that they need to “move things along” seems like it would take away from their actual responsibility, which is pitching well and winning games. Trying to improve pace-of-play on the backs of pitchers alone seems pretty unfair.
But in the end, it’s not really clear *why* Manfred is continuing to harp on this. He’s said that game length is one of the reasons that young people are turning away from baseball, but there doesn’t seem to be any proof of this. I’m hoping that there’s been some kind of survey done of kids and young adults, and when asked why they don’t like baseball, they’ve all said “the games are too long.” That would explain why.
But it’s equally likely someone said, “I made a cool GIF of a play and posted it on Twitter and got a cease-and-desist order from one of your lawyers, so now I hate baseball because you won’t let fans have any fun with it.” Focusing on pace-of-play just isn’t going to get the job done if Manfred is trying to make the game appeal to young people. It’s a big issue that goes way beyond that.
Manfred seems intent on continuing to tinker with the game to make it shorter, even though he hasn’t made it clear how much shorter he wants games to be, and how many seconds these changes would really, truly shave from the total time. It feels like he’s chasing some kind of Sasquatch of baseball perfection. But, just like Sasquatch, it doesn’t really exist. There is no baseball perfection, and there never has been. From the very beginning, the game has always had quirks.
And just because there’s no perfect version of baseball doesn’t mean that changes shouldn’t be made. But they should be made with clear goals in mind, and reaching those goals should accomplish something important and valuable that truly makes the game better. Shaving five minutes off a baseball game doesn’t qualify as a truly worthy goal.
More MLB coverage on Yahoo Sports:
– – – – – –