When the MLB instituted a new intentional walk rule, which eliminates the need to throw four balls, they did so with one objective in mind: speeding up the pace of play. This was also Rob Manfred’s goal when implementing the 30-second time limit for managers to decide whether to challenge a play. Both of these rules are being exercised this season, but (as expected) games aren’t getting noticeably shorter.
The average MLB game lasted 3:00:42 in 2016, and saw an all-time high of 3:02:21 in 2014. The league needs to bring that number down, and not just by a few minutes.
Are there other options the MLB could explore? Of course there are, and we will dive into them here. But we won’t stop there. I also want to talk about the possibility of games ending in ties, avoiding the blasphemous 17-inning game. As usual, I’ll have the odds for each potential rule change being enacted (within the next five years).
Possible Changes to Improve the Pace of Play
Pitch Clock: 1/2
Manfred is already testing this out in the minors, where the clock allows for a maximum of 20 seconds between pitches. There is no reason for a pitcher to take any longer than that to receive the ball from his catcher, get himself set, retrieve the signal, and deliver a pitch. (I could even go for a shorter clock.)
In 2016, major-league pitchers averaged 22.6 seconds between pitches. Please implement a clock ASAP!
Limit “Time Outs” by Batters: 3/2
I understand that occasionally a batter has something in his eye, dislikes his footing, or doesn’t like the grip he has on the bat. But the league needs to amend its lengthy list of exceptions that allow a batter to step out of the box.
In 2015, the MLB enacted a rule stating batters must keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout every at bat. However, here are all the exceptions to that rule. (When do they have to stay in the box?)
Umpires need to stop granting so many time outs (how about three per game?), and a batter should not be able to leave the box after every time he swings at a pitch.
Limit Mound Meetings: 2/1
This would not only improve the pace of play, but also likely provide the game with some added scoring. When a pitcher is struggling with signs, or just doesn’t have his command, the pitching coach or catcher often heads out to the mound to settle the situation.
There is already enough standing around in a baseball game. A mound meeting should only be allowed once per game. Any other time a meeting happens at the mound, it should end in a pitching change or the batter being granted first-base.
Limit the Number of Pitching Changes per Inning: 4/1
Once again, we are improving more than just pace of play here. Manfred has acknowledged how effective relief pitchers are in the game today, and we all know how long the delay is for a team to make a pitching change.
Here is my proposal: if the pitcher who started the game opens an inning, you are allowed to make two pitching changes during that inning; if a reliever starts the inning, you are only permitted one change. A switch that is made before the inning starts does not count against a team’s limit.
For those teams who try to use “injury” to remove a pitcher, that player would have to go on the seven-day DL. (Or the league could create a five-day DL for this circumstance.)
Allow Ties: 5/2
While the NHL has eliminated ties, and the NFL is contemplating it, baseball needs to go the other way. If a game is not decided by the end of the 12th inning, just call it a tie.
Have you ever been in attendance for a game that went beyond 12 innings? If you answered, “hell no, I took off,” you rest with the majority. If you did have the courage to tough out multiple extra innings, which come sans alcohol, you were likely able to hear the discussion being had by the couple three sections over.
In a 162-game schedule, there is no need for a game to go 17 innings. Just call it a tie.
Start Each Inning with a Runner on Second-Base: 7/2
Look away traditionalists. This idea is currently being tested in the minor leagues, and may be the best alternative to allowing ties.
I would like to see this happen to start the 12th inning, though, not immediately.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]