Improving pace of MLB games is more than just a pitch clock

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Major League Baseball has a new commissioner and many of us who have been fans of the game since before the Bud Selig-era view the former commissioner with mixed emotions.

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People often forget how much baseball was on the brink in the early 1990’s. Popularity had snagged with the young generation (my generation at the time), attendance wasn’t great and it seemed to be an antiquated sport. Selig was able to rejuvenate the game through some rather unpopular changes at first, such as expanded playoffs and realignment.

Attendance today is very good, teams have terrific local TV ratings (not great nationally but I’ve always maintained that baseball is healthy as a regional sport–in other words we love watching our Detroit Tigers but have no interest in watching the 17 of the 19 annual Red Sox-Yankees games that are on network TV), but Selig’s era also is one of controversy.

Some don’t like the added wildcard (while I don’t hate it, I wish they could make it into a three-game playoff series because baseball is not a sport of the one-game playoff scenario) and the steroid era grew exponentially under his watch.

So it is understandable that new commissioner Rob Manfred has ideas to make a mark on the game early in his tenure. Some are good (Pete Rose reinstatement, DH throughout baseball) and some are terrible (eliminating defensive shifts).

It seems as though Manfred wants to focus on improving the pace of the game as his first major project. I agree whole-heartily with this plan, however it seems as though the commish’s vision for improvement is limited.

The pitch clock is what has been talked about most. It was used in the Arizona Fall League and will be utilized in Double- and Triple-A before possibly coming to MLB in 2016.

I have mixed emotions on the pitch count, which would assign a ball if the pitcher doesn’t deliver the pitch within 20 seconds. Baseball is not a game of clocks but I understand the need for it. Still how about the batter continually stepping out to adjust–um–things? Isn’t it only fair they be assigned a strike if they delay too long?

Fun fact: I was doing research for last week’s Throwback Thursday article on Hal Newhouser and looked at the 1945 World Series that was played between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. Game 2 at Briggs Stadium saw the Tigers defeat the Cubs 4-1 in a game played in one-hour, 47 minutes. Incredible!

Of course that has to do with TV. There was no televised baseball back then. Today 1:47 seems like what is added onto every postseason game for added commercial breaks (in-between innings commercial breaks are 30 seconds longer in the playoffs).

It is amazing that baseball (and all American sports leagues) has so many commercial breaks, but when they come back from commercial breaks the announcer reads the sponsors with their logos flashing on the screen. Every aspect of the game is sponsored from pitching changes to rain delays (YES EVEN RAIN DELAYS) and each stadium has advertisements everywhere the eyes can see.

Here’s my list of recommendations to speed up the game:

  • Limit catcher mound visits to two per inning.
  • Limit replay time to 2:50. Start the clock from the first replay the umpire team looks at and have the screen go black at 2:50 mark. If they cannot make a determination at that time the play stands as called. Too often last year we saw replays taking FOREVER! If it isn’t clear, don’t overturn it.
  • No more four-pitch intentional walks (this is something that will be experimented with in Spring Training). I know some are completely against this because sometimes the pitcher can throw wild and sometimes a batter swings anyway, but those instances are exceedingly rare.
  • As we mentioned above, if a pitcher is assigned a ball for failing to pitch within 20 seconds, a batter should be assigned a strike if he steps out of the box more than twice during an at-bat (barring injury of course).
  • Eliminate a batter’s ability to call timeout while the pitcher is in the windup.
  • Reduce the time for in-between inning breaks. Instead of taking two-minute commercial breaks each half-inning, reduce it to 1:45. Those 15 seconds can be made up with a scrolling advertisement during the first 15 seconds of the half-inning. There is no reason, with all the advertising we mentioned above, that the breaks need to be two minutes.

Of course I expect none of these to be in effect in the near future (and it will NEVER happen in terms of the advertising).

I love baseball and know fellow hardcore fans who ask “why reduce something you love?” Valid point but the 3:30-4 games that were becoming common place last year are just too much of a good thing.

Next: How Tigers should handle injuries

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