I’m one of those people who loves playoff baseball but loses interest in the regular season.
It’s not entirely about the length of the game or the onslaught of commercials. It’s more about the dilution of the product when you play 162 games over the course of seven months.
The thing that makes the postseason great is the heightened stakes, which amplifies the nuances that make baseball one of our most strategic sports. I enjoy a a well-executed squeeze or a key pitching change in October, rather than seeing Pete Mackanin do it three times in one inning on a Saturday night in July.
I do think the game is a bit slow, but I don’t know if some of the more extreme ideas to speed things up make much sense.
Starting extra innings with a runner on second?
Fouling off multiple pitches results in a strikeout?
If we’re changing baseball, let’s use a scalpel and not a hacksaw.
For what it’s worth, MLB did make some minor adjustments for 2017. If you want an intentional walk, you now just signal to the umpire. There’s no more standing around while a pitcher tosses four balls in a row. The replay system was also amended to give managers 30 seconds to decide whether to challenge, while officials then get two minutes to make a call.
These are small tweaks, but they make sense, even if MLB could be doing more.
Whoa whoa whoa slow down baseball. I can't keep up now that you skipped right through that intentional walk. This is too damn fast!
— tony vassallo (@mr_spilled_ink) April 3, 2017
Here are four more ways to make America’s pastime more watchable, without ruining the purity of the game.
1. Shorten the regular season, extend the playoffs
I get it — it’s a money thing.
Ten fewer games at Citizens Bank Park means ten fewer opportunities to sell hot dogs, beer, and merchandise. Fewer broadcasts means fewer advertising slots and changes to the revenue streams that keep people employed. Another complication is that MLB is much more popular at the local level while fewer fans watch national broadcasts.
The problem is that the regular season is incredibly watered down. It’s disappointing to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates go 98 and 64 in the NL Central, then bow out in a one-game wild card playoff.
No fanbase should have to go through that.
An easy way to tweak this is to cut the regular season from 162 games to 155, or fewer. Make the wild card a best of three, then extend each division series to seven games. You can trim some of the fat while beefing up the postseason.
Some of the revenue you’ll lose at the local level will be regained nationally with extra broadcasts to start the playoffs. That doesn’t necessarily help the Phillies, who probably aren’t going to the playoffs this year, but what it might do is rebuild some national interest by giving us more opportunities to see high-level postseason play.
We don’t need more baseball, we need more meaningful baseball.
2. Eliminate the designated hitter, remove pitchers from the batting order, or do both
Baseball is the only game in America where each league plays by different rules.
It results in quirky interleague and World Series situations, like Corey Kluber going to the plate and Raul Ibanez being used as a designated hitter.
How can you determine a championship using two different sets of rules in two different ballparks?
One idea I like is to remove the 9th batter from the lineup entirely. In both leagues, you would bat one through eight with your field players, eliminate the designated hitter, and keep pitchers to the mound only.
Sure, it’s fun to watch Madison Bumgarner hit a pair of home runs on opening day, but the vast majority of pitchers aren’t knocking the ball out of the park or even putting it in play on a regular basis. We’re trying to protect our pitchers anyway, so I don’t want Aaron Nola at the plate.
Another thing this does it give us more plate appearances from superstars. If hitting one-through-eight results in more at-bats for Mike Trout, then sign me up. I don’t need to see a bottom order of Aaron Altherr, Cameron Rupp, and Clay Buchholtz.
3. Limit the ability of players to call time and halt play
For me, the issue is not the lack of action in baseball, it’s the continuity of the action.
There’s too much dilatory behavior that kills rhythm, momentum, and attention spans, which are already short among millennials who aren’t watching baseball the same way other generations did.
I’m 32 years old, so I’d call myself a baseball “tweener.” I’m old enough to respect tradition while also being a bit bored when a career .209 hitter steps out of the box six times in a row.
Maybe you can put a number on that to keep batters inside the box. There’s too much crotch-grabbing and seed-spitting and velcro adjusting taking place.
There also needs to be some kind of cap on the amount of times a catcher can halt play to talk to a pitcher. Once per inning? Managers already have limits to their on-field access.
Pitchers also need to keep it moving.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has spoken of his desire to see a pitch clock in the major leagues, similar to the one that was installed in the minors two years ago. That clock is set to 20 seconds while the average time between MLB pitches is currently around 23 seconds.
Realistically, I don’t know how much this speeds things up. Baseball is a game without clocks, and I feel like adding a timer probably puts us on the slippery slope to more dangerous ideas.
The problem with baseball isn't the length of games, per se, it's the long periods of inactivity.
— Brian Hall (@MNBrianHall) March 23, 2017
4. Only one pitching change per inning or a minimum on batters faced
The ultimate flow-killer is watching three different relief pitchers face three different batters in a single inning.
Here’s a typical scenario:
A) The lefty pitcher comes out of the bullpen and we go to commercial break.
He retires the lefty batter.
B) The righty pitcher then comes in and we go to another commercial break.
He retires the righty batter.
C) Then, your setup man comes in to finish the inning, but not before another commercial break.
That’s good for the HVAC company that advertises on Comcast SportsNet, but not for us.
Some people suggest a rule change that forces a relief pitcher to face at least two batters before leaving the game. That’s something I can support.
I think another solution is to limit the commercial and warm-up time beyond the first change. When the second reliever comes in, no advertising breaks and only two to three tosses with the catcher, instead of seven or eight.
Pitching changes are a key part of baseball strategy, so I don’t endorse too much radicalization. It’s less about the swapping of pitchers and more about the time it takes to do it.
Another way to avoid this is to tweak the expanded roster rules. We don’t need a 40-man roster in the fall after rolling through the entire season with 12 to 15 fewer players. Bringing in five relievers only adds to the number of times that we can theoretically slow down a game.
If you want to keep the expanded roster, a better way to do it is to put restrictions on how many players of each position can be added. Let teams add one lefty, one righty, one catcher, one infielder, one outfielder, and maybe two more flex positions of their choice. Let’s streamline roster expansion so that teams aren’t stocking up on lefty relievers to gain an advantage over their division rivals.