Monday, March 31, 2014

Play Ball.....For Four Hours

Major League Baseball starts a new season today, and I predict it is going to be a long one.  We already know that the World Series could stretch into November again, but what I'm talking about is the pace of play in a game already considered way too slow by many casual fans which is now going to get even slower.

This is the first season that MLB will be be using expanded instant replay.  Instead of determining just fair or foul calls and whether a ball cleared the fence or home run line, now plays on the bases and catches in the field can be reviewed as well.  For the first six innings, managers will have one challenge each.  If their first challenge is upheld, they get a second.  That means four challenges are possible each game.  Starting in the seventh inning, the umpires can request a replay review of their own.

Given the nature of baseball, with a small ball being used on a large field--and the number of bang-bang plays occurring on the bases--the possibilities for challenges and umpire-reviews are nearly endless.  And as we've seen in the NCAA Tournament--where every finger to the eye, last-minute shot and ball deflected out of bounds has led to momentum-killing video reviews courtside--watching umpires on the phone with the video command center in New York is not going to be must see television.

Pace of play was a big topic on the internet this weekend, with suggestions ranging from pitch clocks to home run derby to decide tie games after the 10th inning.  But here is a novel idea to speed up pace of play--and encourage more offense as well: CALL MORE STRIKES.

The strike zone in today's pro game is a joke.  A ball four inches above the belt is now "high".  And yet, you see the same pitch thrown to the same batter in his next at-bat and he drills it 450-feet out of the ballpark.  The tight strike zone has also played into the hands of the Sabermetrics crowd--who believe you want lineups filled with batters who take a lot of pitches and can foul off borderline pitches until they get a juicy hanging curve out over the plate to drive somewhere.  The Red Sox, Yankees and Cardinals are masters of that technique--and they all play some of the longest games in the Majors--drawn out, four hour affairs with numerous pinch hitters, pitching changes to face one batter and 15-pitch at bats that end up with a walk.

If you went back to the bottom of the armpits to the bottom of the knees--and call strikes all the way out to the edges of the plate, hitters would go up there ready to swing, because they know they are going to see strikes and they need to be aggressive to avoid falling behind in the count.  You might also see more complete games and fewer three-pitchers-used-in-one-inning situations--as starters won't reach the 100-pitch mark in the 6th inning so often.

So enjoy the 2014 baseball season, fans.  You are going to be there awhile.

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