A Really Bad Idea

I was going to talk music again today, though not more about Arlo, but something came up last night that tripped my outrage switch. So I’m going vent some spleen now and get back to the music next week.

What’s got me so upset? I watched a couple of innings of the Cardinals/Nationals game (Cards won, 7-5) while I was exercising and I heard–and it’s a good thing I touch-type, because I can’t see the keyboard for the tears in my eyes–the announcers discussing and approving of a proposal to eliminate the pitches in an intentional walk*. I’ll pause here to allow your cries of horror to die down.

* For those of you who are unfamiliar with baseball–and I realize there are still some of you, despite my best efforts here–the intentional walk is the play you use when you would rather not pitch to a particular hitter. Since you’re not allowed to skip around a batter, you throw four pitches way outside, the batter goes to first base, and you pitch to the presumably weaker hitter next in the order. So you’re increasing the chances of the opposing team scoring by putting a man on base in exchange for improving your odds of getting an out. (There are other reasons you might give a free pass, but they all boil down to that same strategic balancing act.)

The “speed up the game” enthusiasts want to eliminate the act of throwing those four pitches. It’s a bad idea. Really.

The usual counter-argument is to point out the possibility that the catcher will miss one of those deliberately-wild throws. Is you make the intentional walk into a “gimme,” you kill the chances of a stolen base, including the thin potential for a steal of home.

It’s a valid argument, and I’ll come back to it in a moment, but it misses the point. The real problem with the proposal is that it wouldn’t speed the game up much. The average time between pitches is around 22 seconds. It’s probably less for intentional walks because the pitcher and catcher don’t have to negotiate what kind of pitch to throw, but let’s ignore that and say that the typical length of an intentional walk is 88 seconds. Heck, let’s round it up to a minute and a half.

So we’ll save ninety seconds per intentional walk by eliminating the actual pitches. Great! According to SportingCharts, the average team allowed 0.2 intentional walks per game last year. Since there are two teams in each game (and so far nobody has proposed changing that to speed up games), that means there was slightly less than half an intentional walk per game in 2014. Putting that another way, if this proposal had been in effect last year, we would have saved 36 seconds per game.

Granted, last year’s intentional walk count was the lowest since anyone’s been counting, but the average hasn’t been higher than 0.25 in any year since 2009 (which is as far back as SportingCharts’ numbers go). Half an intentional walk per game pushes the savings to 45 seconds.

I doubt even Commissioner Rob Manfred could say “Shortening games by three-quarters of a minute will save baseball,” with a straight face.

And let’s not lose sight of the fact that conceding any kind of “gimme” runs counter to the spirit of competition. Would Tiger Woods concede a six-inch putt? Would the Patriots concede a one-yard touchdown in the Super Bowl? I think not.

Let’s not set a precedent for conceding anything. Once you open the door, someone will want to walk down the path. You don’t need to look any farther than the increase in the use of instant replay to see how that works.

If we can save forty-five seconds a game by conceding the intentional walk, we could save at least two minutes and six seconds per game by conceding an unintentional walk when there are three balls (at least one pitch in each of the 2.88 walks per team per game last season) and more than five and a half minutes per game by conceding a strikeout when there are two strikes (7.7 strikeouts per team per game in 2014). Do we really want to go there?

Hey, here’s an idea: Pitchers are lousy batters–I mentioned last year that the cumulative batting average for pitchers in 2013 was .132. The AL doesn’t even let them hit! We could save twelve minutes per NL game by conceding an out when pitchers come to the plate (four pitches, four at bats per team)! Who needs those boring sacrifice bunts, walks, hit-by-pitches, or not-quite-once-a-year grand slams?

Gimmes: Just Say No.

8 thoughts on “A Really Bad Idea

  1. Okay, this isn’t funny any more. Who the fark ARE these people who hate baseball so much, and yet seem to be in the position of forcing changes on those of us who love the game? It’s like what happens when the bean counters come in, and start talking to crafts people about “increasing efficiency”. If you heard the guys calling the Cards game approving of this horrid change, do two things: make their contact information as widely available as possible, and write them yourself. We need to let such people know that, just because their attention span has become attenuated, their problem is not our problem. Let them go call football games, where there’s actually a lot less action going on, but at least it’s more brutal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect a certain amount of what I call “Bright Shiny Object Syndrome”. BSOS is a tragic condition in which novelty becomes the most important characteristic in determining the worth of an item or idea.

      As for your point about the announcers, I cannot (and would not if I could) disagree. Unfortunately, I’m handicapped here by not knowing the players. Cards/Nats is not a game I would normally have paid any attention to, and I couldn’t honestly say whether the announcers in this case work for one of the teams or were ESPN’s crew. If anyone out there caught the same discussion I heard and can identify the guilty parties, please speak up!

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  2. These people have an endless stream of really awful ideas. I’ve heard this “skip the four pitches” idea floating around with the new commissioner’s arrival. I didn’t want to believe it and hope that it will just go away. (Along with the people who have no interest in the game itself.)

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    • Regrettably, the ideas and people aren’t going to just go away. As John says, write. Write to the commish. Write to your favorite teams’ owners. And here’s a thought: write to the TV networks that carry your teams’ games. Tell them that you watch the games, that you are not in favor of rule changes intended just to shorten games even if those changes would mean fewer annoying commercials.

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      • I’d love to write to the TV Network that carries the Giants games. Unhappily, (since we don’t have cable), there isn’t one. NBC, channel 11, used to be the Giants’ station, but they withdrew from the Bay Area years ago- excepting the San Jose area, down South. Kinda pisses me off, to tell the truth, but at least I can listen to the games on KNBR. I dare them to try talking up any of the game shortening bullshit. I’m on it.

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      • Now that’s where you have to get creative. Check the sponsors (and write to them). Even if you don’t have cable, you can still write to the Comcast Sportsnet executives. Diplomatically hint at boycotts of advertisers if the network doesn’t take a public position against the egregiously stupid pace of play proposals.

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      • If you have any disposable cash, they care. They don’t care how many games you attend, but if you watch games on TV or listen on the radio, they care.

        Money is what the whole pace of play mishegas is about, after all, so if you can legitimately say you send dollars their way, even indirectly (by listening to the ads), they care.

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