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As has become the new normal, we’ve got a rule change in baseball this season aimed at streamlining the game, speeding it up and making it more exciting.
And, of course, there’s been a lot of discussion about it. Jackie had a good piece on it a few days ago. But honestly, I think her comments on the pace of the game from a few years ago make the point much more strongly.
The rule change, for those of you not of the faith, is that it’s no longer necessary to actually walk somebody intentionally. Don’t want to pitch to him? Just give the sign and let him go straight to first.
As Jackie and many others have pointed out, this isn’t going to save much time, it’s not going to appreciably speed up the game, and it eliminates a bit of suspense–the chance of something going wrong.
I agree that it’s not a change for the better, but I’m more annoyed by the fact that they’re going ahead with a change that has so little impact on the game. Why bother?
The rule change–and some of the other proposals that won’t be introduced this year, such as shrinking the strike zone–has resulted in a few interesting ideas for speeding up the game and (Goddess help us) making it “more exciting”.
Patrick Dubuque, for example, has an article over at Baseball Prospectus suggesting that baseball should de-emphasize the strikeout. That’ll encourage players to put the ball in play more often (a much more exciting end to an at bat) and shorten games (fewer pitches thrown).
I kind of like the idea, actually, but the problem with the proposal, and most such notions, is that they fundamentally change the nature of the game.
There’s actually a very simple way to shorten ballgames that doesn’t require altering the game itself. Just add a time limit to the reasons for calling a game.
We already end games at less than nine innings in the event of inclement weather. And if at least five innings* have been played, the game is considered played and counts in the standings just like a nine-inning game.
* Yes, that’s slightly simplified. Doesn’t affect the argument I’m making here.
There’s certainly precedent for using considerations beside the weather to cut a game short. Before 1947, for example, a game that began without artificial lighting could not be finished under the lights. Yes, even if the stadium had lights–and almost all the major league parks did by then–the game had to be called on account of darkness if the teams were still playing at sunset.
We’ll never get back to the length of a game in the 1940s (somewhere between an hour and 55 minutes and 2 hours and 20 minutes). The necessity for a specified number of TV commercials, and the concomitant need for in-park, between-innings entertainment (dot races, mascot races, etc.) means we’re consuming something on the order of three-quarters of an hour on TV breaks alone. But 2:45? That’s doable.
So we treat the 2:30 mark (since our target is 2:45, but we have to play out the half-inning, we need to have the trigger a bit earlier) the same way we do a sudden rain: finish the current half-inning (or full inning if the visitors are batting and have a lead) and end the game right there. If the game is tied or didn’t go four and a half innings, treat it the same way as in a rainout, and reschedule or finish it the next day.
OK, I’ll grant you the transition might be a little awkward, with games ending after five or six innings, but players and managers will adjust. Time management will take on a whole new level of strategic importance, with the team in the lead trying to slow the game down and the trailer trying to speed it up. But again, it’s the same thing we already see when there’s a prediction of unfavorable weather.
Again: we already deal with the issue multiple times every season. Now we’ll make it part of every game. No big deal.
Games will be shorter and–by virtue of packing the same amount of action into a smaller amount of time–more exciting. We won’t need to change any of our existing statistics. And the additional pressure might just increase the number of intentional walks where something goes wrong.