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MLB: Speeding Up Games, Good or Bad?

In late May, Major League Baseball asked its teams to reinforce rules that pertain to speeding up the games. A nine-inning game in 2008 is averaging 2 hours, 51 minutes, 42 seconds. Just five years ago, games were 5 1/2 minutes shorter than they are today. Many people view longer games as a growing epidemic in baseball, but is it really that big of a problem? Sports of Boston’s Mike and Pete go head-to-head to decide if speeding up games in baseball is good or bad.

Mike’s Side:
As you may have heard, Major League Baseball conferenced with representatives from each club, including general managers, managers, and stadium entertainment staff regarding enforcing pace of game rules. These rules are focused on three aspects of the game: batter’s timeliness, pitcher’s timeliness, and mound conferences, while also cutting down between inning entertainment. I think that the rules should be enforced to reduce what I consider wasted time during the games, which I do not think impact the game strategically. My formative baseball years were the late ’80s and early ’90s and games at that time ran between 2:20 and 2:40 in the American League. Reading through box scores every day as a kid, I noticed that the National League games ran a little shorter and you would see sub-two-hour games fairly often. This is not to say we should rush the game, but if they can reduce the downtime, that would be a good thing. After all, how many people today would tell you baseball is their favorite sport? Many, especially the younger generation, will cite too much standing around and a lack of action, and I would say that I’ve seen the slowdown precipitously as I have grown up.

However, part of baseball’s chamr is that it is the only prominent game we have that is not governed by a clock. Also, the game has lengthened for reasons other than those that can be legislated. For many reasons, run scoring is up, which drives up the number of at bats, number of pitches, and number of pitching changes in the game. Also, the specialist relievers have become prominent, specifically, the left-handed specialist, set-up men, and closers. Many teams have a lefty who will make upwards of 90 single batter appearances throughout the year while others have a seventh, eighth, and ninth inning man. Also, teams use pitch counts more often in the game today and there are fewer complete games. Let’s look at the initiatives point by point.

First, let’s look at the rules regarding the batter (Rule 6.02). MLB is calling for batters to approach the box from the on-deck circle quickly, which seems reasonable as many batters seem to leisurely stoll to the plate. The next aspect is a personal pet peeve of mine, calling time after a pitcher has begun his delivery. I have never understood how this is reasonable, not to mention the potential injury to the pitcher if he tries to stop. The final batter related enforcement is keeping the batter in the box for most of the at bat. Plate appearances take a very long time, it seems, because batters seem to step out after every pitch and, at the very least, walk around, if not go through some ritual. I understand that that a hitter needs to mentally prepare to face a 90-plus mile-per-hour fastball, but do they need to linger after each pitch? I do not think it is necessary. MLB also wants batboys to have backup bats ready, which is reasonable, but batters still need to apply pinetar and otherwise prepare the bat, so this will not and should not be a huge area of focus.

The next area of focus is on pitchers, specifically enforcing a 12-second clock between pitches. Obviously, the pitcher has more to focus on when there are baserunners. As long as the game is not impacted, with repsect to allowing the pitcher to hold a runner on, this rule makes sense. The other big enforcement in this area is enforcing speedier mound conferences, especially when the visitor is not timely upon his arrival. Pitchers are compelled to arrive to the rubber for warmups between innings quickly, in order to get the next half-inning started on time.

This may not save a whole lot of time, but I think the memo highlighted the intent as speeding up the “pace” of the game. Cutting down on the down time during the game will increase the time we have some form of action, which core and casual fans alike will appreciate. It is a delicate balance between altering the strategic aspects of the game, which seasoned fans will notice, and improving the experience for the average fan. All sports have their core base, but cannot exist as they do today without the masses. Finally, the pace of the game will certainly be cited as an issue to bringing replay into the game, another reason to trim anywhere possible. (Personally, I do not think replay would materially add time to the game if implemented properly, primarily because controversial calls incite lengthy manager argument which would be eliminated.)

Pete’s Side
“Umpires should urge batters to approach home plate from the on-deck circle and enter the batter’s box faster, and to enforce rules such as issuing an automatic strike to batters who linger outside the box.”

Enter the batter’s box faster? Do they want them to jog there or something? It’s not like the batter is making his rounds around the park or chatting with fans in the stands. This just sounds like impatience to me and being impatient is not grounds for giving a batter an automatic strike. So if we enforced this rule back in the Nomar Garciaparra days, the Nomar would have been called out on strikes for adjusting his batting gloves between each pitch during every at bat.

A batter calling for time during a pitchers delivery already faces enough punishment for not calling for a timeout in a timely manner. The umpire tells him “tough luck” and lets the pitch go. Any additinal punishment is not needed for this kind of incident.

“In bases-empty situations, pitchers should be warned if they don’t pitch within a 12-second time limit. Pitchers will be called for a ball for each subsequent violation.”

Again, this is just an umpire who wants to leave the ballpark early. A pitcher is dealing with a physical game on the mound, but also a mental. Who cares if nobody is on base? A pitcher facing a bases empty situation is stressful because he doesn’t want to put the batter he is currently facing on base. You may have the runners off the bases, but you don’t take the stress or the importance out of the game. Disciplining a pitcher with a ball for taking his time? That sounds like something you do on a schoolyard, not in a professional ballgame.

“In addition to those existing rules, conferences on the pitcher’s mound will be broken up more quickly, and teams will be asked to have a reserve player or coach ready to catch warmup pitches if a catcher isn’t ready.”

OK, this one I agree with. But with a shade of grey. If it is a first visit, then that is usually to talk to a pitcher and ask him how he is doing. Later in a game when you know a pitcher is in the bullpen and the manager/pitching coach visits the mound again, then you know it is to buy the bullpen time. So I say in a situation like that, the umpire can see fit to break up the meeting as quickly as he wants. The situation needs to be payed by ear but I can personally say that I get tired of endless mound meetings, especially between just pitcher and catcher. I think a rule needs to be put in place to limit the number of mound visits between catcher and pitcher.

It is no secret that ballparks around the country are jacking up prices. In fact, a few weeks ago, I spent $50 on a tickert to see the Sox-Brewers game at Fenway. Not to mention money for food and transportation, we are talking close to $100 for a night at the ballpark. As a fan, I want some bang for my buck and if I have to spend all that money then I want the game to last as long as it can so that I get my money’s worth. $100 for a game that lasts less than 2 1/2 hours? No way!

I think that rushing the game as a whole is a bad idea, the players need to go ast thier own pace in order to effectively play the game. If a pitcher is rushed into throwing, he makes bad pitches. A batter taking his time in the box to adequately prepare to face a 96 mph fastball is something we should not hold against the batter. It is said that the hardest thing to do in all of sports is hit a major league fastball. So, if a batter needs a few moments to prepare himself to do the hardest thing in sports, then I say we can wait 5 seconds. Oh, and if a pitcher needs a few extra seconds to prepare to throw a fastball, the hardest thing to hit in professional sports, then I say we give him the time to deliver a difficult feat.

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