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.