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Rob Manfred’s Ideas To ‘Fix’ MLB Are Dumb. Here Are Some Better Ones.

I’ve got some good advice for the commissioner.

Al Yellon

So far this spring, we’ve heard several rule-change ideas from the Commissioner’s office that ostensibly are designed to speed up the pace of play.

They would do nothing of the sort. In summation:

  • Eliminating the requirement for pitchers to throw four pitches outside the strike zone for an intentional walk. As I noted in this article, given the length of time it takes to throw those pitches and the number of IBB in 2016, that would save approximately two-tenths of one percent of the total time of games.
  • A ridiculous proposal which has been derided by everyone from fans to broadcasters to writers to players in which extra innings would start with a runner on second base. As I noted in this article, if that proposal would apply only to games of 13 innings or longer, you are affecting 1.5 percent of all games (there were 36 such games in 2016).
  • Monday, another proposal was made, this one to limit managers to 30 seconds to decide whether or not they want to ask for a replay challenge. There were 1,531 reviews in 2016, including the postseason (which is an average of 0.62 per game). Let’s assume that the time managers have taken before now is one minute per challenge (in many cases, it’s less, but play along). Reducing that to 30 seconds would save 766 minutes... or an average of 20 seconds per major-league game scheduled.

Joe Sheehan summed this up best, I think:

All of the changes above (and with the exception of the replay proposal, none is likely to happen) are minor things that don’t address the real issue that Manfred and his cronies want to address, which is getting young people more engaged with baseball.

Before I make suggestions about that, let me note that the solution to the replay review issue has been right in front of MLB for years and they refuse to do it. Sheehan’s got it right (the linked tweet proposes a booth umpire):

The challenge system is dumb. The umpires should be doing the reviews, period. Having a booth umpire who would be part of the crew is the perfect way to do it, takes the manager out of it completely — and it would speed up games! The time that it takes a manager to decide on a review isn’t the issue — it’s the time taken for the review itself. Here’s a list of all 2016 reviews, and as you can see, many of them took more than three minutes. Having an umpire in the booth to initiate reviews would save time. Another thought would be to limit reviews to the length of an inning break (two minutes, maybe two and a half). If you can’t figure it out by then it’s “call stands.”

Why they can’t see this is totally beyond me.

(Also, if you are really interested in detail on replay review, check out this link, which breaks down reviews in many different ways and has links to video of most of them.)

The real issue here, though, is that most of this is just a distraction, and MLB’s leaders don’t seem to understand that improving the pace of play, if that’s really what they want to do, can be done in two simple ways:

  1. Make batters stay in the box, if they don’t, call strikes on them, and
  2. Enforce the 12-second rule already on the books, if pitchers don’t pitch within that amount of time (with no one on base, according to the rule), call balls on them.

That’s easy to do. If that needs a pitch clock, so be it. Those two things alone could cut 15 minutes off each game. (Yes, it could. Having a pitch clock accomplished that in the minor leagues in 2015.)

As far as how to engage young people in baseball, it’s abundantly clear to me that young people like sharing their thoughts on various topics on social media. So why does MLB unleash a squadron of lawyers to take down various things (video, mostly) that people are posting on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube?

This is free publicity for your business! Why would you not want that, Rob Manfred?

Beyond that, MLB has made it difficult for people like me to share their videos. During the 2016 season, there were often times when I wanted to embed a video in a game recap, only to find that no embed code was available.

The game is over! I’m not going to steal any of your precious RSN viewers at that point! Why would MLB not want me to embed a video in my recap, especially since most of them play an ad before the video? This is more eyeballs for your ads!

I noticed this in particular when I was posting the revisited recaps of the 2016 season. With the season over, there’s no longer any reason to not have embed codes and so I was able to embed many more videos in the revisited recaps. But really, there’s no reason at all to not post these embed codes as soon as the games are over.

And don’t even get me started on TV territorial blackouts. Yes, I am well aware of the reason for the blackouts, but in this age of cord-cutting, MLB’s insistence on blacking out people in team territories from watching games online even if they want to pay to do so is 1990s thinking. The lifting of in-market blackouts is fine, but you still have to have a cable subscription to watch those. TV is migrating online. MLB would be well-advised to go with the flow here.

Knocking tiny bits of time off baseball games, a few seconds here and there, or changing fundamental rules of play, isn’t going to engage more people in baseball. Get with the program, Rob Manfred (and his seventy-something executive Joe Torre), and understand how people really consume and talk about your sport in the year 2017.