By: Noah Wright
If you know anything about me, I hate any sort of forms of pace of play, or more action rules. I personally think that it is not needed in baseball. Most POP rules only shave off 5 to 10 minutes of playing time and I highly doubt anybody who thinks baseball is slow and boring now isn’t going to change their mind because there’s now 5 minutes knocked off of a 2 and a half to 3 hour game.
Manfred is already testing some rules for pace of play and game length in the MILB. One being the pitch clock, and the other being starting a runner at second base in extra innings. However, now he wants to test more, completely ridiculous rules in the independent Atlantic League. If you haven’t seen what he is going to test in 2019, well here’s a list:
- Home plate umpire assisted in calling balls and strikes by a TrackMan radar tracking system.
- No mound visits permitted by players or coaches other than for pitching changes or medical issues.
- Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, or reach the end of an inning before they exit the game, unless the pitcher becomes injured.
- Increase the size of 1st, 2nd and 3rd base from 15 inches square to 18 inches square.
- Require two infielders to be on each side of second base when a pitch is released (if not, the ball is dead and the umpire shall call a ball).
- Time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45.
- Distance from pitching rubber to home plate extended 24 inches, in the second half of the season only; with no change to mound height or shape.
Now let’s go over each of these rules one by one:
The automated strike zone completely takes out pitch framing. This is a valuable skill for a catcher, and it can save runs, and keep batters off of the bases. Last year, Yasmani Grandal was ranked as the #1 framing catcher in terms of framing runs saved. He finished 2018 with a grand total of 15.7 FRS. Taking out pitch framing might also cost some players their jobs. For example, Tony Wolters ranked 9th in FRS with 9.9. He’s a light hitting catcher with huge defensive value. He was worth 12 DRS behind the plate last year. Wolters value as a catcher goes down significantly
Oh my god we’re going to have some serious problems with this next rule. You cannot, whatsoever take out mound visits from a baseball game. This completely takes out talking strategy between the pitcher and catcher and/or coach. Let’s set up a scenario where this could completely screw over a team. It’s the bottom of the 9th, your closer is in to face the 2-3-4 batters of your opponents line-up. Your closer gives up a single to start the inning, but gets out the 3 and 4 guys. Now the 5th guy comes up, and he’s somebody your closer has bad numbers against. However, as a coach, you can’t go and calm him down, and tell him the 5th batter’s strength’s, weaknesses, and so forth. The closer gives up a walk off home run, something that could have been prevented if there were mound visits. This would also be like if they didn’t allow coaches in basketball allowed to talk to their players during the quarter on the sidelines to set-up plays, or let football players have a team huddle to discuss the route their about to run.
I’ve already discussed my displeasure for the three batter minimum, but I’ll briefly go over why it’s stupid. For one, it takes out a lot of strategy from baseball. Two, it devalue the roles of lefty/righty specialists. Three, it can completely lose games for teams. I’m going to use the Pirates for this example. The Bucs are playing the Cardinals in the bottom of the 9th of a 3-1 game. The Pirates put in Kyle Crick since both Keone Kela and Felipe Vasquez have pitched a good amount of time this week already, but Vasquez is ready just in case. Crick comes up, and gets Jose Martinez out. However, Paul Goldschmidt comes up and rips a double, putting a fairly good base runner in scoring position with Matt Carpenter up and only 1 out. The Pirates are forced to leave Crick out there to face Carpenter, even though Carpenter has great numbers vs right handed pitching, and only ok numbers vs LHP. The likely hook of the Cards scoring runs is significantly higher than if the Bucs were able to put in Felipe Vasquez. A lot of situations like this will happen if the 3-batter minimum is introduced.
Making the bases larger will create a running game that will be extremely hard to control. How many times have you seen players get caught stealing a bag by only a few inches? Like if they were a step faster, that’s an easy stolen base. I for one see it a handful of times. Coaches on teams will definitely be giving the green light more often to steal, and catchers caught stealing % will be thrown way off.
Preventing the shift is also a rule that I have spoken about before. Banning the shift only helps guys like Joey Gallo, who can’t hit the ball on the opposite side of the field to save their lives. These are not the guys we should be helping. These are the guys that need to adapt or get left behind. It also can hurt guys who can hit to all fields. In a sport where you are a professional athlete, paid a lot of money to hit a baseball, and have coaches who are also paid a lot to teach you how to hit said baseball, you’d think that in between all of that, there would be some way for the team to teach players to hit against the shift, even if it meant bunting.
This is the only rule that I would consider implementing, but even then it has it’s negatives. Reducing the time in between pitching changes does speed up the game, and it would not have a large impact on game outcome like the shift, three batter minimum, or no mound visits at all. However, a pitcher might need more than 1:45 to warm up. However, if pitching coaches get their players warmed up like a half inning earlier than usual, it might not matter that much anyway. I would suggest shortening time in between innings in the MLB, but that means less advertisement time, and less money for owners and Manfred.
Adding an extra 2 feet distance between home plate and the mound is going to massively effect pitchers breaking balls, off speed pitches, and even fastballs. For one, pitchers will have a harder time locating their breaking pitches like cutters, sliders, and curveballs. More distance in between the rubber and home plate means it gives more time for the ball to break. Painting the edges will be harder after these pitchers have been used to pitching from 60 feet, 6 inches their entire pro career. Some pitchers will overcompensate, and never be able to hit their spots. Some will undercompensate and leave pitches in vulnerable spots. With fastballs, batters will have more time to see the ball, giving them a little more time to adjust. The same thing with off speed pitches too, but to a greater degree since they’ll be coming in slower.
In the end, all of these rule changes are batter and batter focused only. Almost none of them help the pitcher in any way. And this is all for multiple reasons, one being pace of play and 2 being more action. Both pace of play and more action contradict each other though. More action extends game length, something that Manfred wants to cut down. I get that he wants to cut down, down time but you can’t do that without less advertisement time, something that I feel owners and Manfred would be against. These rules are also to bring in younger fans, and less baseball less ‘boring’ (which I highly disagree it is). However they’re going about it all wrong. Instead, they need more promoting of players like Harper, Javy Baez, and have other flashy personalities. Even if someone does find the sport boring, they’ll be more willing to watch a game if they recognize players, enjoy watching them play, or show off their personality.