Thursday, February 23, 2017

You Wanna Move It Along?

It took a couple of seasons, but Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred is proving that he knows as little about what is good for his game as his predecessor Bud Selig did.  This week, Manfred announced his agenda for "speeding up the game".  The "major change" that will get everyone out of the ballpark faster this year?  You no longer have to throw four pitches for an intentional walk--you can just wave the guy to first base.

Let's say you have one intentional walk a game, that will save you a whole 45-seconds!  Wow!  That should have millennials flocking back to the game!  I should note that Manfred also decried the lack of players union cooperation in accepting additional changes like pitch clocks and limited trips to the mound by coaches and managers.  But none of these changes address the real reason that baseball can drag on.

For starters, I take exception to the whole concept of "Baseball games are too long".  Regulation college football games now last four hours (unless they feature the Wisconsin Badgers--who still play some games in less than three hours because they RUN THE DAMN BALL!).  Part of the beauty of baseball is you could be there for 2 hours or you could be there for five hours.  Plus, we can have one sport that isn't in-your-face up-tempo action every single second of every single game.  It's called variety--and it's a good thing.

Baseball will never address the real cause of longer games: TV.  The between-half-innings break is two-minutes and thirty seconds.  Trim that to just two minutes and you have saved yourself nine minutes of playing time.  Make it 90-seconds--and you've cut a whopping 18-minutes off the game time.  But Budweiser, Miller and Coors are paying big bucks for the additional 30 or 60 seconds--so you know that will never be cut.  Which brings us to the easiest way to move the game along--and it requires no changes to the rules:  CALL MORE STRIKES.

Major League Baseball has a decent strike zone.  The problem is, umpires don't enforce it the way it is written.  According to MLB's own website, the top of the zone is the "midpoint between the shoulders and the top of the pants"--while the bottom of the zone is "the bottom of the knees.  I can tell you that the men in blue are not calling that zone--especially at the top end.  I don't know how many times I've seen a pitch four inches above the belt called a ball and thought "Where did that miss?'  And then two pitches later, a ball in the same exact spot gets crushed 450-feet for a home run.  Again, on a pitch that would not have been called a strike had the batter taken it.

Before you think that calling more strikes would just lead to more strikeouts and a "boring low-scoring game", give Major League hitters some credit.  As I've mentioned, they can handle pitches above the belt--and when those are getting called strikes, they will come to the plate ready to swing.  You will actually see more balls put into play earlier in counts--which will also reduce pitch counts and allow starters to stay in the game longer--reducing the multiple pitching changes from the sixth inning on (which is also a major contributor to longer games).

Calling more strikes also makes pitchers that don't throw every pitch at 95+ miles an hour more effective--which may reduce the number of arm injuries suffered every year (which is also supposed to be a priority with Commissioner Manfred).

So let's stop requiring pitchers to almost put the ball on a tee for the hitters--even if it means teens and twenty-somethings don't get 7-6 games every night.

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