Pace of play in MLB games has been an ongoing topic of discussion between players and owners (and among media and fans) for several years now.
Let’s stipulate one thing right now, before I get into the meat of this article. We are not talking about the length of games (even though average game times have in fact been increasing). We are talking about the pace of the game and things that have nothing to do with actual play making games longer. Yes, the end result would (hopefully) be shorter games. But the point is to eliminate things that aren’t part of game action, or speed those things along, in order to have faster-paced games.
In this long article in The Athletic (subscription required), Jayson Stark goes through a large list of things that MLB owners are considering changing about the game to help improve the pace of play. One of them is a pitch clock, which very likely is coming to a MLB ballpark near you in 2019:
“I think everyone [in management] is pretty much on board with it,” says one baseball executive who has been involved in the ongoing discussions about this topic. “So it’s really just a question of whether it’s worth the fight with the players.”
The potential of that fight with the players — over pitch clocks and everything else — will hang over this entire debate. For the rest of this winter. Possibly for the rest of our lifetimes.
But that’s not the only thing Stark discusses in his article as potential pace-improving things. Others include various ways to limit pitching changes, limiting how many relievers can be in any one game, “tightening up” the replay review system, fewer mound visits, shorter inning breaks or even banning shifts (to that last one, I say “absolutely not.”
Here is the problem, summed up by Stark:
Baseball games take three hours to play. They just do. And they have for a long time. You can go back 30 years – and the average game time has settled in at between 2:45 and 3:00 every single year. Take a look:
YEAR AVG. GAME TIME
Has that number been creeping upward over those last three decades? Obviously. But baseball games are never going to shrink to the length of, say, the average basketball game. Can’t happen.
“We’ll never get to 2:30,” says one baseball official. “That’s impossible …. And to even get under 2:45, it would have to be a radically different format.”
Given that, the one thing that I would like to see implemented of all of Stark’s suggestions is this one:
REQUIRE RELIEVERS TO FACE MULTIPLE HITTERS
This is something that’s been suggested before; the most common way of making this practical would be to require any reliever brought into the game in the middle of an inning to face at least two batters, unless the inning ends with the first hitter faced. This would dramatically reduce the number of mid-inning pitching changes, and would likely show us the end of the reliever nicknamed the LOOGY (Left-handed One-Out Guy). Teams would have to identify and develop relievers who can retire both righthanded and lefthanded hitters. Stark points out that “one-batter relief appearances” have been declining over the past four seasons, from 9.3 percent of all relief outings in 2015 to 7.7 percent in 2018, so:
So given that trend – toward relievers who have weapons to attack hitters from both sides – there might be less resistance to a “must-face-multiple-hitters” proposal than there would have been even three years ago.
I agree with this, and reducing the number of mid-inning pitching changes could result in knocking as much as 10 minutes off the average length of a game, not to mention having the pace feel faster. When managers begin these relief parades in the modern game, it feels like the games come to a screeching halt, even after some games fly through the first five innings or so.
There are other changes suggested by Stark that could pick up the pace of play, but I think this one could be one of the most effective ways, without changing too much of the fundamental nature of the game. You’ll say that it might, since managers have always had discretion as to when to bring substitutes into the game, but before recent years most managers didn’t use as many pitching changes as they do now. The way the game is actually played — pitcher tries to get hitter out, batter tries to get hits off pitcher — wouldn’t change. Relief pitchers would have to adjust to the idea that they’re not in the game just to get hitters from one side of the plate out, but baseball has always been a game of adjustments.
Remember, this is a thought exercise mostly, and that’s why I limited myself to just one change I think would have the most impact. Some of the other things mentioned by Stark might also help, and in response to Stark’s article, Len Kasper tweeted Tuesday about several things he thought would help:
1) Shorten inning breaks & add split-screen 30-sec ads between batters. We have the downtime, USE IT. 2) Tighten replay—10-sec limit for manager to challenge, CC w/earpiece connected to NY, 90-sec limit on replay. 3) All P changes 90-sec total. You’d save 15 minutes per game. https://t.co/R5emXsgyDP— Len Kasper (@LenKasper) November 13, 2018
I’d be reluctant to change things fundamental to the game like limiting shifts, changing K zone. Pitch clock is something I’d consider but only after my other ideas were implemented. I’d also shave 6 mound visits to 4. Still plenty. More action, less standing around waiting.— Len Kasper (@LenKasper) November 13, 2018
For those arguing it’s pace not time, I AGREE. However, In practice I would always rather START the tweaking with tangential elements of the game before diving into rules that most directly impact game strategy. Worst thing to do is overreact initially. Just my opinion.— Len Kasper (@LenKasper) November 13, 2018
Undoubtedly, you have your own opinions on this topic, so have at it.
If you had to choose only ONE way to increase the pace of play, what would it be?
This poll is closed
A reliever has to face at least two batters unless the inning ends
Limit the total number of relievers in any one game
Institute a pitch clock
Tighten up the replay review system
Decrease the number of mound visits from 6 to 4
Shorter inning breaks (with possible TV ads during innings)
Limit defensive shifts
Something else (leave in comments)
Don’t change anything, the game is fine the way it is