Increasing the speed and pace of MLB games, with the main goal of appealing to a younger audience, has been at the forefront of Rob Manfred’s brief tenure as MLB commissioner. Give MLB credit, they acknowledge that the average age of a baseball fan is getting older and that fewer younger kids are playing and following the game than ever before.
A few changes in recent years like the pitch clock, the signal for the intentional walk, and timed mound meetings are good steps in the right direction. In saying that, even more could be done to experiment with rule changes. MLB teams have at least eight levels of minor league baseball, so why not try out a few every year on them and see what could be implemented in The Show?
Everybody involved with the game wants to make it better and more successful without sacrificing its integrity. Only realistic changes to the game that aspire to do just that should be considered. I say ‘realistic’ because cutting the season to 144 games, adding the DH to the NL, or shortening the game to seven innings would not necessarily make the game faster or more profitable. Simply, large and abrasive changes won’t happen, improvements have to be done inch-by-inch, year-by-year.
From watching many MiLB and MLB games over the years, here are a few new rules I would like to see tested at various levels of the minors.
Make Relievers Face a Minimum of Three Batters Per Appearance
Fans love strategy in baseball, and few top line stats are as well known as the platoon advantage. As well, bringing in a lefty reliever to face a lefty slugger in a big spot late in a game is wonderful drama in October…but not in May.
To speed up the game, relievers should have to face a minimum of three batters per appearance, unless there is an end to an inning. This would obviously remove the left-handed specialist that only faces one batter per game as well as frequent pitching changes, but also emphasize relievers being better, not just primed for a batter or two in high leverage situations.
This would teach pitchers at a low level and young age to face batters they don’t have an advantage over in a hyper-dissected, micro-managed stat sheet, to develop more stamina, and make them sharper as they wouldn’t be let off the hook after only one batter.
For fans that compare frequent pitching changes to the NBA’s many late game timeouts, they are right, and even the NBA is looking at shortening the end of its games! This comparison, however, is valid if the timeouts were coming in the early 4th or late 3rd quarter. A lot of the pitching changes happen in the middle innings before closers take over.
Pitching changes are happening more frequently than in years past, and bullpens are throwing more innings per game. Both of these increase the time of the game, while decreasing the pace.
Hopefully, this change could increase pace as well as help improve the quality of reliever.
Introduce Shorter Pitching Change Times
As it stands, it takes a long time to switch between pitches, from the manager walking out to the mound to the warm up pitches being thrown by the new pitcher themselves.
If a pitching change occurs during the middle of an inning (as opposed to between innings), a reliever should only throw one or two warm up pitches at the mound. While this would shorten commercial breaks, and yield less revenue for the team, TV and radio partners, they could monetize that time through a logo on TV during the change or reading out of town scores on radio, which is also usually sponsored. Most games I’ve attended have a quick promo read for the sponsor of the pitching change, and then show crowd shots or bloopers on the video board while the pitcher warms up. This isn’t a sacred or financially valuable space.
For comparison, backup goalies in hockey do not take warm up shots before going in, and that is WAY more dangerous than relievers throwing 30 pitches, then jogging to the mound to begin work. The backup goalies have not been stretching for 20 minutes and facing shots like relievers that have been throwing.
Additionally, the manager doesn’t need to come to the mound for a pitching change. The current layout of a pitching change takes time, especially as managers don’t exactly rush to get to the mound, nor are they setting up the defense for further strategy. The manager giving a hand signal to the umpire and team, similar to the one currently used for an intentional walk, could save a few more minutes per game.
Limit Pitchers to Two Pick-Off Attempts Per Batter
I grew up going to a baseball stadium that played sounds of a chicken clucking every time a visiting pitcher threw the ball to first to keep a runner on. At the time, I thought keeping a runner close was smart strategy and baseball. Now, after working in baseball stadiums for 15 years, I could now say pitchers repeatedly stepping off the rubber and gingerly throwing to first is tiresome and kills the flow of a game.
Limiting a pitcher two pick-off attempts would force him to focus on the batter so the game flows, and also give the runner an advantage of being able to take a bigger lead after one pick-off move. It would put pressure on the pitcher to make the pick-off moves count, or not care at all where the runner takes his lead.
Fast runners or close games make for interesting decisions. Obviously, pitchouts and catcher snap throws could also keep a runner honest, but those come with defensive risks. The penalty for stepping off a third time would be the same as a balk, every runner taking an extra base. Compelling situations could arise, especially late in important games with pinch runners and multiple runners on.
Rule changes have many hurdles to climb – like owners and the players union voting on them, for example – but MLB has a perfect opportunity to use its deep minor league system as a testing ground without sacrificing proper player development and the game’s integrity.
Lead Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports