Faster, Faster!

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Moving on.

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.

Don’t laugh.

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.

Problem solved.

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.

6 thoughts on “Faster, Faster!

  1. Well, I’m sorry to see you boarding the “speed up/shorten the game” bandwagon, however tentatively. There isn’t a thing wrong with the game that couldn’t be fixed by shortening the interminable commercial breaks- THAT’S what’s causing the games to go on for long enough to try the patience of network executives, even as they reap the profits from their sponsors. They want it both ways: maximize the advertising profits and shorten the game, so, of course, they are looking for ways to make the actual PLAYING of the game not take so long.
    I’m beginning to feel like I’m on the losing side, but I want them to leave the beautiful game alone, and, maybe teach the current generation of potential fans about what’s really happening on the field, instead of catering to the lowest common denominator.
    The game goes into extra innings? So be it. If it goes to 10, 14, or even 18 innings, as a Giants game did, recently, exhaustion begins to play a role- who’s going to make the first bad mistake and blow the game? I couldn’t tear myself away. Set a “time limit” and that dramatic possibility is gone, for good.
    So, I say protect the game from the shallow bean counters, who don’t give a damn about the game. Educate the audience, and, for Pete’s sake, stop talking about how to “speed up the game”. Every game is as long as it needs to be, and that’s beautiful.

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    • We’re not going to be able to wean baseball off of those sweet, sweet, television dollars. That means the between-innings breaks–and pitching change breaks–aren’t going to get any shorter. Just not going to happen.

      At least under my proposal, games can and will still find their natural endings, even if that means going into extra innings. It’s just that, under the worst case scenario, it might take a few days for the end to play out. It feels a little odd, sure, but it seems to work out fine for cricket. Don’t their matches run four or five days by design?

      That said, getting rid of the bean counters would be a cleaner solution, yes. But how?

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  2. Here was the most troubling “speed up things” rule change: “With some exceptions, replay officials in the Replay Operations Center in New York will have two minutes to render a decision on a replay review.”

    I know that some of these challenge replay breaks have taken a long time … but still … can you put a time limit on justice?

    (It was weird to re-read my post that you mentioned … that I wrote five years ago and barely remembered. I may not remember the post, but I do still remember that spring training game they aired without the broadcasters. I wish someone would do that again!)

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    • I’m keeping an open mind on that one. On the one hand, if you’re going to interrupt the game for a review, you owe it to the fans to get it right. On the other hand, having no limit on the time they can take sometimes makes it feel like they’re mining the video to find a way to prove a point of view, rather than impartially deciding based on what’s available. And, unless I’m mistaken, the replay crew chief can grant more time as he sees fit, so I’m not honestly sure it’s going to make a whole lot of difference.

      As for the no commentators thing, I don’t know if they’re doing it in Spring Training (or at all this year), but in previous years, that’s been an option for almost every televised game through MLB.TV. Takes a couple of extra clicks, but you can watch the home team’s television broadcast with a mike somewhere in the stadium that *isn’t* the broadcast booth.

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  3. I love the purity of the game as well, but I understand the desire to speed it up. The world is different now than it was in 1940. I’d love to have three hours to enjoy a baseball game, but I don’t. Maybe when I retire and can relax more, but that day won’t be here for a while.

    Even though I know the automatic intentional walk won’t save much time, I’m actually in favor of it. I constantly hear how “something could happen” during an intentional walk, but my memory would be hard pressed to come up with an example. I’m sure there isn’t one, but such a minute chance of something happening doesn’t justify watching a four-pitch intentional walk. There will still be the visit to the mound after the walk and still be other things happening to slow the game down, but at least we can get the guy to first without watching the pitcher check the runners, look in to the catcher and loft a ball five feet off the plate. Count me in favor, despite understanding the arguments against.

    Have a great week, Casey. Only a few weeks from Opening Day!

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    • I just think starting with the intentional walk was such a stupid place to begin trying to speed up the game. As others have pointed out, over the course of a season, it’ll save an average of about thirty seconds a game. Less than is used up by a single pitching change.

      I’d prefer that games find their own lengths, but if The Powers What Is insist on speeding things up, I wish they’d focus on things that (a) don’t affect the statistical history of the game and (b) actually accomplish something. Dumping the intentional walk doesn’t work on either point.

      Real purists may cringe, but I actually don’t have a problem with the idea of a pitch clock. I’ve seen it in the minors, and it really doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the game. Bringing it to the majors would be far more effective and far less smaller violation of the tradition of the game than not playing out an intentional walk.

      Got the first televised Mariners game of the pre-season yesterday. Definitely a sign of progress. Counting the days!

      Liked by 1 person

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