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Intentional walks and game length

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I’m not the kind of baseball fan who can plausibly call himself a “traditionalist” or “purist.” I’m a fan of the DH and booth review. I adhere to no just-so story about some sort of “golden age” that just happens to correspond to my childhood when the game was better in some unspecified way than it is today. While I share many of Erik’s concerns about the possibility that the coming round of automation will have some ugly social and economic consequences, I would eagerly and enthusiastically welcome the automation of calling balls and strikes. So I don’t seem like the kind of person who would seem to care much about the elimination of the throw four balls wide requirement for an intentional walk, and in fairness I don’t care *much*, but I find myself mildly annoyed by it. My initial efforts to make sense of my annoyance pointed to those moments when things go wrong, which can be highly entertaining. It seems cruel to say, but I really do find pitcher control meltdowns bad enough to lead to a WP on an IBB highly entertaining. But this can’t really annoy me too much, since we’re talking about a once a season kind of event.

I think the source of my annoyance is well captured by Anders Jorstad, whose sentiments I largely endorse:

While many may have issue with this rule as a fundamental aspect of the game — such as arguing that throwing those four balls are important — my argument is much simpler: stop trying to shorten the game.

Rob Manfred seems to be under the impression that people don’t like baseball because the game is too long. He’s partially right about the game being long, as a recent study estimated that an average game lasts just under three hours and contains only 18 minutes worth of “action.”

However, football — the “true American pastime” — is actually 10 minutes longer on average and contains half as much “action.”

The truth is this: people who don’t like baseball just don’t like it. Many might say the game is too long or boring. But small changes like a pitch clock or an automated intentional walk aren’t going to move the needle for anyone who already dislikes the sport.

The only way to dramatically shorten the game of baseball would be to fundamentally change the way the sport is played. The game will always be nine innings, will always include six outs per inning, and will always have a sizable amount of time between pitches. The game will never be fast. If it becomes fast, it will have become something that isn’t baseball.

So perhaps what Manfred really needs to do is to stop trying to pitch the game to non-baseball fans. He’s not pleasing anyone by making these changes. Stop trying to turn the game something it isn’t and instead focus on making the game better for those who already care deeply about the sport.

I say “largely” endorse because there are some measures to shorten games I would wholeheartedly embrace. From a purely fan-experience perspective, shortening breaks between innings would be fantastic! But of course I understand the need for revenue. More plausibly, cracking down on granting batters ‘time’ would be most welcome. And steps to speed up booth review. But I wouldn’t endorse these steps because they shorten the game, exactly, but because they’d improve the rhythm and pacing. Manfred’s criminally stupid “runner on second in extra innings” rule suggests that he’s under the impression that the problem is the raw length of games. But that’s absurd. What’s annoying is a ordinary 9 inning game with ~15 hits and ~5-8 runs that drags on for four hours because the rhythm is unnecessarily slow. A 4 hour 12 inning game is not a problem. Many exciting things in baseball extend the length of the game. If you don’t enjoy a 10+ pitch battle between a power pitcher and a power hitter, I don’t know what to tell you. Of course baseball seems boring if you don’t like baseball, but a) so what? and b) that’s not going to change is you somehow manage to shave 8 minutes off the average game.

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  • mpowell

    I think this has it right. The reason why football can be so long is that there is a lot to digest on any given play. Viewing immediate replays adds substantially to the experience of the game. The level of interest to viewers of equivalent levels of sophistication is just much lower in baseball in between pitches.

  • Jordan

    I am unsure what this has to do with intentional walks. Those seem right up your alley as good game-shorteners, given all that you suggest. This is a thing that provides no value except once a season in a lolrangers sort of way (I just hate the rangers, no factive issue there).

    So … why, exactly, support shorter inning breaks (they at least allows fans to get their beer and food) but not this? Like, the article you linked isn’t an argument against intentional walks but against shortening the game. But you support shortening the game via other measures! So what is wrong about intentional walks? It surely isn’t because it improves the pace of the game?

    I’ll admit, I’m confused.

    /eta: if your only point is who cares, then sure.

    • CaptainBringdown

      Those seem right up your alley as good game-shorteners,

      Intentional walks occur approximately once per 2.5 games. So the elimination of going thru the motions would shorten length of the average game by 30 seconds or less.

      • McAllen

        And by eliminating them you’re also eliminating the small but real chance that something weird and entertaining will happen during them.

      • Jordan

        I don’t really care about shortening games at all. But if you are going to do it, why not this on?

        As the OP said, baseball is fine and baseball is fun.

        The required 4-pitchout is stupid.

        • Junipermo

          Disagree about the intentional walk. The pitcher shouldn’t be rewarded for not trying to get a guy out by not having to throw the four intentional balls.

          • Jordan

            But who cares? 999/1000 times it goes like clockwork, and is just boring. Why do that?

    • djw

      Fair question; I’d say my preference for rhythm explains both–overlong inning breaks takes you out of the overall rhythm (I attended an M’s game several years ago that was one of the ~5 or so a year that wasn’t televised; I really preferred the reduced breaks from a viewing perspective). Having a batter come up, take no pitches, take a base, then wait for the next batter to come up will (I’m speculating) seem disruptive to the pitching rhythm. Obviously the effect will surely be fairly trivial, but so too are the gains.

      • Jordan

        Ahh, the no tv-time-outs deal.

        I guess I think an automatic pass and then real pitching is a better rhythm option then four fake pitches and then real pitching. But, ya, thats totally speculative on my part too.

        And fighting over trivial advantages one way or the other is the hallmark of the modern sports fan, no?

  • Denverite

    I posted this in Erik’s thread, but I’ve always been in favor of a rule where the batter advances to second base on a four pitch walk.

    • Jordan

      This rule would have been great with late Bonds. “… is this the strike? NO! Ok, this has to be the strike …. AND another home run for BARRY BONDS”

      or something like that.

      • Denverite

        Exactly. Or more generally, the strategy changes that would happen — intentional walks after going 0-1, meatballs on 3-0 counts, etc.

        • Jordan

          hmm, yessss. That would be fascinating.

    • tsam

      That’s not a terrible idea.

      I also don’t care if the pitcher wants to surrender. If he gives a surrender sign (something deliberately meant to convey “I ain’t pitching to this guy, he can hit), let the batter take his sweetass time walking to first (or second).

      I don’t get the point of shortening the game–people either like baseball or they don’t, and I seriously doubt that the length of the game is a factor in that–or if it is, they’d have to shorten it to 2 or 3 innings to compete with the American collective attention span.

      Like the T-shirt says: I get it if you don’t like baseball. It’s kind of a smart person’s sport.

      • wjts

        I like baseball, but would probably prefer the games to be shorter (not counting ones that go into extra innings). One of the things I like about soccer is that non-elimination games are pretty much guaranteed to be over in two hours. But I don’t see that this kind of rule change does a whole lot to make the game shorter. You might as well move the on-deck circle five feet closer to the plate to cut down on the time it takes to walk from one to the other.

        • tsam

          Overall, though, I think most of the time is added in pitching changes–especially in the late innings of close games, and there’s no way that’s going to change. A lot of things are just that way–long at bats with 8 or 9 foul balls, lots of hits with no scoring (more at bats per inning), just things that are the normal course of the game. You can’t really time baseball like other games–the at bats and number of innings have to happen.

          • MyNameIsZweig

            Related to this, what I’d really like to see is a rule that says that, once he’s in the game, a relief pitcher cannot be taken out until one of these three things happens: he gets an out; he gives up a run; or he gets hurt. That might make managers rethink those incredibly time-consuming pitching changes toward the end of a game.

            • tsam

              That’s pretty much how they do it–aside from allowing a hit or two and getting yanked. But they could still match R/R and L/L after an out, and with every batter if they have arms available. I see what you’re saying, but I’m not sure how much of a time impact that would actually have.

              • MyNameIsZweig

                I dunno, I’m sure it’s confirmation bias or whatever, but it seems awful common (especially in playoff games) to have a relief pitcher come in, walk a guy, and then get pulled for another pitcher to face the next guy.

                As far as the time savings, well, it would at least cut out the commercial breaks immediately following those walks. Which may not be huge, because this doesn’t happen every single game, but it’s not nothing.

          • Junipermo

            Yep, though I did hear someone float the asinine idea of having 7 inning games.

          • efgoldman

            I think most of the time is added in pitching changes–especially in the late innings of close games, and there’s no way that’s going to change.

            Pitching changes, trips to the mound, batters like Fisk and Nomar stepping out and adjusting gloves/shirt/jock after every goddamned pitch, innumerable visits to the mound by catcher and infielder that don’t count as mound visits, pitchers like Buchholz who are afraid to throw the damned ball to the damned plate….
            But as noted above, it’s more than anything else the demands of TV. Cable fees aren’t enough – they have to sell the time, too.
            I’ve been watching baseball long enough to have seen Earley Wynn pitch to Ted Williams in person. I grew up a 15-minute walk from Fenway. Yes, I’m a geezer. But the games really are longer (so’s football – 20 years ago they didn’t allow the extra 20 minute window between the early and late games). Somebody found an old box score of a 12-11 game which took ~2.5 hours.

            I would
            – Not allow batters to step out between pitches
            – Have a catcher (infielder?) trip to the mound count as a “visit” for purpose of replacing the pitcher.
            – Cut the mid-inning break by 30 or 45 seconds without lenghtening the between-inning breaks.
            None of those is especially gimmicky. Once upon a time, a manager’s visits to the mound were not limited; batters didn’t wear gloves, so there was nothing to adjust.

            ETA: I wouldn’t be averse to a pitch clock, either. I remember when there was no play clock in football, and no shot clock in college hoops. Neither exactly ruined the game when it was introduced.

            • Rob in CT

              Nice, efg, I’m with you.

            • MyNameIsZweig

              pitch clock

              I would be averse, generally speaking, but I would need to hear the specifics on how it would be implemented before making up my mind.

              • Rob in CT

                I just think umps should charge pitchers with a ball if they’re consistently taking too long. This of course involves umpire discretion, which opens things up to bias. But I think umps generally are pretty good (with certain notable exceptions).

                I don’t know about an actual clock.

      • vic rattlehead

        You can make it so that intentional walks go to second. Only walks off a full count are not intentional and go to first. Make them pitch.

    • catbirdman

      Mega-dittos. I think baseball would do better with something like this, which introduces a quickening dynamic plus added strategic decisions, vs. a dud like the intentional-walk change. The latter doesn’t happen nearly often enough to make a dent. But the AL really should never have gone to the DH. That will always suck IMO because it reduced strategy.

    • vic rattlehead

      It should be based on batting average at the time of the at bat. Below .250, first base. .250 to .300, second base. Above that, 3rd. Incentivize being a MAN and have the courage of your pitches! (If it’s an intentional walk)

  • D.N. Nation

    FWIW, when I played high school ball, our coach would just signal “four” to the home plate umpire and the batter would take 1st. Don’t know if that’s a high school thing or a North Carolina thing.

  • rea

    If you want to make intentional walks more exciting, enforce the rule requiring the catcher to stay in the catcher’s box until the pitch is thrown. That Cabrera play for example–that was a balk, due to the catcher being way outside (of course, that would have been a better result for the Orioles).

  • Richard Hershberger

    My problem with the IBB proposal is that it is blatantly obvious that the stated intention of shortening games is bullshit. This rule change will do effectively nothing to game length, and everybody knows it. So what is the real point? Is there anything more to this than Manfred is unhappy that he wasn’t able to fuck with the shift, so he is going to find something else to fuck with?

    As for the extra innings proposal, again, it obviously isn’t really about game length. So the math and the effect it would have on average game length will be trivial. On the other hand, there is a legitimate point about marathon games. Much as I love those games where one team puts an outfielder on the mound while the other puts a pitcher in the outfield, those games are brutal on the players, and I don’t want my team involved in one, requiring weeks to recover. The proposed rule change seems like a plausible attempt to prevent marathon games. So why is it being sold as shortening games? It may be simply that the press is primed to discuss that, and confused by other topics.

    Also, the best way to prevent marathon games is simply to abolish them. If the game is tied after, say, eleven innings, then it is a tie. Tie games are a perfectly legitimate result. Embrace them. And in the real world, the number of ties will be small.

    As for games taking too long, this is a traditional concern. An astonishing number of rules changes over the past century and a half have been instituted in the hope of shortening the game. And games really are longer nowadays. A century ago they managed to get those 54 outs in about two hours. The thing is, putzing around the margins isn’t going to change this. The elephant in the room is the length of between-inning breaks, which MLB isn’t going to change. Neither are pitching changes going to go away.

    What we can potentially fix is the drawn out contemplative habits of both pitchers and batters. But we need to be careful. A lot of slow pitching comes when men are on base. Put the pitcher on a clock and we will get a lot of soft tosses to first base.

    My semi-serious suggestion: bring back the quick pitch. Allow the pitcher to begin his delivery as soon as the batter has both feet in the box. Or, if that is too radical, let the batter move the dirt around to his satisfaction before the first pitch, but let ’em rip after that.

    • McAllen

      I wish American sports in general would be less skittish about ties.

      • Joe_JP

        Ties ares somewhat anti-American in that we like winners.

        I guess ties aren’t that bad, but really, I prefer a clear winner. And, if we want to shorten games somehow when it goes OT in determining a winner, there are various fun enough ways to go about that. Extra innings in baseball to me are fun anyhow. There also isn’t that many extra innings in football to worry too much. I’m fine with how they do it in college football, though yes, for some reason some aren’t.

        • Joe_JP

          (yes, there is actually no “extra innings” in football … literally)

        • McAllen

          I think Americans tend to think of games in and of themselves, whereas soccer fans, at least, tend to think of them as part of a larger effort–to win your league, to avoid relegation, to get out of your group in the Champions League or the World Cup, etc. So a tie would have a clear conclusion in terms of how it affects that larger effort.

      • tsam

        NO. THIS IS … NO.

    • CaptainBringdown

      There’s no tying in baseball.

      • Richard Hershberger

        The most recent regular season tie game was September 29, 2016, Cubs at Pirates. The last one before that was in 2005. Back in the day, before stadium lighting, tie games were not uncommon. Later on they introduced the concept of the suspended game to be completed at a later date (a radical change from tradition, by the way), and they have gradually expanded the circumstances where a game is suspended. Under the present rules a game will only be called a tie if it is a late-season game that will have no effect on the standings.

    • djw

      My problem with the IBB proposal is that it is blatantly obvious that the stated intention of shortening games is bullshit. This rule change will do effectively nothing to game length, and everybody knows it. So what is the real point? Is there anything more to this than Manfred is unhappy that he wasn’t able to fuck with the shift, so he is going to find something else to fuck with?

      This isn’t obvious to me at all. If you identify as a problem “games at around 10 minutes too long on average” you can attempt to solve the problem with a big solution, or you can nibble away at the margins with a bunch of smaller game shorteners. If the options for the first approach are poor, then the second one makes a lot of sense. Taken as part of a broader incremental strategy, it’s perfectly sensible to take it at face value.

      • randy khan

        There’s no obvious set of “smaller game shorteners” that would reduce average game length by 10 minutes. The IBB rule (which I don’t oppose, I should add), saves probably an average of 30 seconds every 2-1/2 games, or 12 seconds a game.

      • Richard Hershberger

        An IBB occurred approximately once every 2.6 MLB games last season. How long does an IBB take? Heck if I know. I’ve never timed them. One minute seems extravagantly generous, so I’ll go with that. This comes out to an average of 23 seconds per game. Come up with 25 more ideas to shorten the game this much as you will achieve your goal. But not really. Some fraction of those IBBs aren’t four-pitch intentional walks, but rather cases of pitching around the batter, not giving him anything to hit but hoping he will try and hit a weak ground ball. When he doesn’t take the bait and the count is 3-0, the manager throws in the towel and calls for an IBB. What fraction of IBBs are like this? Again, heck if I know. But it means that the extravagantly generous estimate of saving 23 seconds is, even on its own terms, overly optimistic.

        • efgoldman

          I actually remember a strikeout on an intentional walk. One pitch to a Red Sox JAG named George Thomas got too close to the plate, and he swung at it. Opposition manager said “what the hell”, took the IBB off and Thomas struck out.

    • vic rattlehead

      Fuck with the shift and I am no longer watching baseball. Can the MLB afford to lose me? No!

  • AlanInSF

    I totally disagree with Jorstad’s contention, and would like to see actual data that comes even close to supporting it. I love baseball, I attend games in a great seat in arguably the best ballpark in America, and I really hate it when games go over three hours, headed toward three-and-a-half or three-forty-five. I just don’t like being confined to a damn seat for that long. There’s a reason virtually every form of public entertainment is in the 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hour time frame, as baseball and football originally were.

    My sister, who generously lets me use her season tix sometimes, doesn’t care how long games are. So based on my anecdata, I’d say baseball lovers are pretty evenly divided.

    • Denverite

      We’ve been going to a lot of non-major-conference college basketball games this year (spouse knows a bunch of the players), and the fact that it’s two hours from the time we walk out the door until we walk back in it is awesome.

    • BethRich52

      You never leave your seat during a game?

  • sleepyirv

    Like, it’s the same disease running in the NFL when they changed the extra-point rule to make it more “interesting.” Well, extra points are harder, but I wouldn’t describe them as being more interesting or entertaining. It was just a way for a bunch of over-payed executives look like they’re doing something. Ironically, wasting their time on something that no one cares about when there are deep, deep problems in football.

    Baseball doesn’t have a concussion crisis. It doesn’t have to worry about kids’ mom stopping their sons from head-butting brick walls for the entertainment of high school students. It should be easy to fix flow problems in the game — have the pitchers pitch and don’t allow batters to wander out of the box all the time. Instead they do something as artificial and needless as this.

  • Joe_JP

    “Let’s play two” is now “is it over, yet?!”

    The expansion of game times by advertising, use of relief pitching and now instant replay makes penny ante ways like this a bit stupid. And, intentional walks take a trivial amount of time. It’s worth it for the ceremony and non-zero chance something will go wrong like a wild pitch. Finally, you still will have unintentional intentional walks and counts that only eventually become intentional walks.

    The few seconds saved while you walk the guy in front of the pitcher (I’m not in favor of the DH in the NL) etc. here is not worth the candle in my view. But, it did allow me to find a single thing to agree with two people who I usually find are tools (on another blog). So, there’s that.

  • randy khan

    There really are only a few things that would meaningfully change the length of games, roughly in order of most impact to least: (1) Eliminating the DH; (2) making the strike zone bigger (or calling it as it’s officially described); (3) keeping batters in the box between pitches; and (4) cutting back on the number of pitching changes. The DH is off the table, of course, and it’s hard to see limiting pitching changes, but the other two are big factors in game length. All of these changes also would help to maintain the rhythm of the game, or even improve it.

    Everything else is minor and incremental. As noted above, intentional walks are uncommon – last year’s MLB leader in IBBs (Bryce Harper) had 20, or one every 8 games, and the number drops off rapidly after that (#10 on the list had 10, or one every 16 games, give or take). Manfred’s silly extra inning proposal would affect a very small percentage of games, and those games actually tend to engage fans more.

    It doesn’t seem that Manfred has thought these things through. I also find myself wondering if there was any effort to compare quick games to slow games to see what the differences are. That could be very revealing

    (Football, by the way, actually has much less action than baseball. It’s covered up on TV by all the replays, but it’s definitely true – there are maybe 100-125 plays in a typical game, while a typical baseball game has maybe 250 pitches, plus pickoff plays, steals, etc. I occasionally DVR football and baseball games, and I can watch a DVRd football game in about half an hour by skipping all the down time, while a baseball game takes about an hour.)

    • ninja3000

      Definitely agree with your take that extra inning games tend to engage fans more. I love free baseball, as Michael Kay calls its, and there’s technically a 50-50 chance of a walk-off win. That’s always exciting, depending on which team you’re pulling for, of course.

  • davidsmcwilliams

    +1 for a post that includes Cabrera. He’s made watching the Tigers a pleasure the past few years.

    • liberalrob

      Watching a sure-fire Hall of Fame player in their prime is always a treat.

      • tsam

        Fuck yes it is.

        Angels are a division rival–still deliberately watch games to watch Mike Trout hit.

        And of course my team has Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz–at least 2 of them are HOFers.

        • Rob in CT

          *sighs wistfully*

          The contract is pretty much insane, but watching Robbie Cano play for your team is a very nice thing, and I miss it.

          • tsam

            EW ARE YOU A YANKEES FAN?

            • Rob in CT

              I APOLOGIZE FOR NOTHING.

              • tsam

                YOU BETTER NOT

                There is, however, a whole host of teams in your area that aren’t the Stankees. Even Jesus hates the Yankees. Says so on a few t-shirts I seen.

                • Rob in CT

                  No way I could switch to the Red Sox at this point, tsam. My wife’s a Sox fan (at least nominally, in reality she doesn’t have the time to care) so I sort of keep tabs on them too.

                  That leaves the Mets. I actually was sort of a Mets fan as a little boy, but it didn’t stick.

                  Also, I don’t particularly care about the opinion of a probably fictional iron age carpenter. ;)

                • tsam

                  Also, I don’t particularly care about the opinion of a probably fictional iron age carpenter. ;)

                  And you shouldn’t!

  • Rob in CT

    I love baseball.

    I want the games to move more quickly. It’s not about total length of game per se, but rather about flow.

    To me, this intentional walk thing is targeting something waaaaay down the list of reasons the games take longer than they used to.

    Other culprits:

    Batters wasting time
    Pitchers wasting time
    More pitching changes

    I like the DH, but generally speaking anything that increases offense will also lengthen games. Randy Khan’s point about the strikezone also applies. You know what else probably matters? Teams valuing OBP more than they used to. A lineup full of hackers will take less time to make outs.

    The lowest hanging fruit, to me, seems to be umps keeping batters in the box and making pitchers deliver the ball to the plate w/in whatever the limit is supposed to be (15 seconds?). Pickoff attempts are harder to get at.

    • liberalrob

      I always seem to gravitate back to George Carlin’s “Baseball and Football” bit. Being “slow,” untimed, indefinite is part of what makes baseball baseball. Like the OP says, people who say they hate baseball for being “too slow” are people who really just don’t like baseball, period. And you know, it’s OK to hate baseball! People hate soccer, people hate hockey, people hate cricket. I don’t see the big crisis facing baseball; it’s plenty popular worldwide, with professional leagues ongoing in Japan, South Korea, Mexico, and who knows how many other countries I can’t come up with off the top of my head.

      The main driver for all this “we MUST find ways to shorten games!” emergency (as I see it) is the business need to keep the average game length under 3 hours so it fits neatly in a prime-time TV slot. That’s where the big money is, and as you know the #1 rule of business is always seek ways to maximize and increase profits, forever. It’s a bullshit reason to muck around with the basic structure of the game, but it is what it is.

      • Rob in CT

        I will certainly concede that some of my desire for shorter games is because I’m older now, have kids, and don’t want to stay up so late (even a 7pm start, if it goes 4 hours, ouch). For the occasional really awesome game in which the *action* dictates that it takes 4 hours, hey, fine.

        But it’s more than that. There’s just a lot of time wasting and it’s annoying. I like the game. A lot. I want to see it played.

        • liberalrob

          You know a professional sport I find boring? Golf! Player hits his/her tee shot, then you don’t hear from them again for half an hour while they stroll to where the thing landed. The only way to make pro golf interesting is on TV where they can cut away to other players who are actually doing something…and even so it’s often a lot of meaningful staring at the lie and the break and take a couple of practice swings then go back and do it again…come on, shoot already! But that’s all necessary to play the game well.

  • njorl

    I think a very small increase in pacing could help a lot. I remember my enjoyment of baseball decreased dramatically in the early 1980s. That was, coincidentally, the beginning of the slow down of games. From a fairly consistent 150 minutes per game over a few decades, baseball jumped to 165 minutes, and my enjoyment declined significantly. That’s just 10%, but imagine your favorite movies or TV shows made 10% longer with no additional content. It matters.

    • Rob in CT

      with no additional content

      This is the key.

      Nobody (who actually likes the game) is going to complain about a game that was long because it went to extra innings, had lots of scoring chances (most of which were stopped by the pitching/defense) and ends up 5-4 on a 2-out RBI single in the bottom of the 14th.

      • randy khan

        I’m going to guess that there is more content in the form of more pitches, as hitters have gravitated towards waiting for deeper counts. Some things that slow the game down, though, like more pitching changes and batters re-adjusting their gloves after every pitch, certainly aren’t content (or at least not content in the sense that would interest me as a viewer).

        • Rob in CT

          Right – there are a bunch of things going on. Some are things I’m happy to accept. I don’t mind batters working counts, thereby making the game longer.

          Similarly, I accept the lengthening that comes with pitching changes.

          I do mind pitchers and batters just plain wasting time.

  • CrunchyFrog

    The truth is this: people who don’t like baseball just don’t like it. Many might say the game is too long or boring. But small changes like a pitch clock or an automated intentional walk aren’t going to move the needle for anyone who already dislikes the sport.

    Totally agree with this, and the post in general. I mostly lost interest in baseball maybe 25 years ago, after having been an obsessed fan in my youth and early adult years, for whatever reason. I think I’d spent 4 years out of the country and when I came back I couldn’t see the attraction anymore.

    (I’ll note as an aside that a half minute was added to the changeover break in the 1980s because of the worst commissioner ever, Ueberroth deciding to increase revenue. Like all of his decisions it was about short-term profit with no consideration for the long-term impact on the game.)

    But we have the same problem in tennis. At various levels tennis officials are thinking that the game would get more attention if only they could shorten the games. I will note that the people saying these things are inevitably the MBA types who somehow got hired to run a part of pro or college tennis and not actual tennis affectionados – just like all the MBAs who set up all those on-line pet food stores in 1999-2000 that failed horribly never actually owned pets. So they decide to play no-ad in Div 1 college tennis and treat let serves as playable. They cut the time of college doubles to under 20 minutes for a match (anyone who knows tennis knows that this is barely time to start to adjust to the opposition doubles’ team’s serves). In the pros there is a movement – fortunately not widely supported yet – for FAST4 format of 4 game sets, no -ad, tiebreaks at 3-3, and at 4-4 in the tiebreak a single point wins the set. If that point is a let that barely fell over the net but is counted as playable, well, that’s the breaks.

    Here’s the thing. Amongst the fan base what are the matches everyone pays big money to attend? The ones that are expected to go the longest. What are the matches everyone remembers? 6-4 3-6 7-6(10), 5-7, 10-8.

    In Div 1 college they have seen a minor uptick in college attendance – in addition to shorter matches they encourage non-tennis fans to attend and do so by encouraging cheering (it is supposed to stop at heckling, but of course doesn’t) during points and basically a party atmosphere. They remind me of a HS soccer game I attended in a neighboring state in 1979 on a Friday night – huge attendance but no one actually watching the game, it was the excuse for the kids to get out of the house on a Friday night. Supposedly they’ll increase revenue selling the shorter matches to ESPN or the Tennis Channel, but that’s not been the boon they thought.

    Tennis’ unique scoring system means that even if you get buried in the first set it’s only one set – you can come back. And as with most sports based on hitting a ball between two zones, it’s important that a single fluke point by itself doesn’t cause the loss of a whole game or a set (some sports have a win-by-2 rule, others have a can-only-score-when-serving rule). This set up is essential to how players approach the match and the strategies therein. It’s also an essential part of spectating. You focus intently at certain times, less so at other times. If you had a basketball kind of scoring system, in which you simply totaled up points until a time limit was reached, it would be a very different and far less interesting game.

    Yet, they want a bigger audience thus more revenue. Very short sighted. The additional people they bring in aren’t tennis fans and aren’t going to buy tennis things.

    • liberalrob

      Well said. And good insight into tennis. It shows that these issues affect/afflict all sports.

    • Captain Oblivious

      Whenever I hear professional sports organizations complaining about the length of games, and blaming their attendance problems on the games or matches taking too long, I feel obliged to remind everyone that

      (a) the people doing the actual bitching are the broadcasters — the longer the match, the less revenue-per-minute the ads bring in, especially if the match runs over the air time initially allotted for it;

      (b) cricket is one of the top two or three most popular sports in the world;

      (c) seasons in all of the major sports are too long; too many marquee players get hurt; ticket prices are too high; moving more and more games into pricey subscription-only cable channels has made it harder to attract new fans; officiating sucks; too many athletes, coaches, and especially owners are assholes and idiots (anyone see Jameis Winston’s latest?) that a lot of people are tired of giving their money to; all of the sports have an aging announcer corps of mostly unappealing, shouty white males who need to be offered a retirement package; and demanding that taxpayers foot the bill for your stadium does not help you attract new fans.

      • Junipermo

        I am violent agreement with the first part of point (c). All seasons of the major sports are definitely too long. One year (1995?) baseball played 144 games due to a work stoppage. I would love it if baseball went to 144 forever.

        The thing about baseball is, I don’t think attendance is a problem overall. When teams do well, fans show up. When they suck, they don’t. But overall, baseball isn’t suffering some serious deficits of butts in the seats. And whatever problems do exist won’t be solved by shaving a minute off the game by changing the IBB rule.

      • Richard Hershberger

        (b) But a lot of that is Twenty20, so I’m not sure how much it bolsters the “game length doesn’t matter” argument.

        • Captain Oblivious

          True, but even Twenty20 matches run about three hours.

  • dudleydowrong

    I adhere to no just-so story about some sort of “golden age” that just happens to correspond to my childhood when the game was better in some unspecified way than it is today.

    This is false. The Blue Jays won their back to back World Series in 92-93, I was 11-12 during those years and trying to emulate Robbie Alomar at 2nd base in my town’s Little League team. This was, objectively, the Golden Age of baseball.

    • wjts

      Much like the Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12?

      • liberalrob

        That’s why I decided to stop there…

      • dudleydowrong

        Exactly – and the Golden Age of Heavy Metal is 17, and the Golden Age of drinking is 24…

    • efgoldman

      This was, objectively, the Golden Age of baseball.

      When I was 11-12, Ted Williams was still playing for the Red Sox. Didn’t matter – they sucked. They sucked into ’67. I went to games because I lived nearby and it only cost a buck or two (less than a movie) and I really did like baseball.
      Now I’m an old man, and I can’t afford the time or money to go to Fenway. If I want to see live baseball, I go to Pawtucket RI and watch the AAA team.

      • Richard Hershberger

        AA is the best level. The level of play is good. A lot of those guys could slot into the bigs overnight. They mostly wouldn’t be stars, but they wouldn’t embarrass themselves. At the same time, they still have something to prove. This is my delicate way of saying they mostly run out ground balls. AAA has a higher level of play, but it feels to me like a holding pen. Those guys aren’t trying to prove anything. They are just waiting for someone on the big club to go on the DL.

    • MyNameIsZweig

      No no no no – the Golden Age of Baseball was 1984, when I was 12 and the Tigers were unstoppable.

      • randy khan

        You missed it by two years, as the best postseason ever was in 1986. (Although by the standard suggested above, I was much too old.)

  • Mike Furlan

    All North American sports are overly long because of commercial breaks, TV timeouts.

    As long as USians are willing to put up with it, the problem will continue to exist.

    I’ll just change the channel to watch La Liga, Champions League or a 6 Nations match.

    • Rob in CT

      This is true, but less true of baseball than, say, football.

      Baseball has natural breaks in the middle of each inning. The commercial break there doesn’t make that take much longer than it should.

  • Mellano

    While I love an occasional long, dramatic game (especially in the postseason), anything to cut the average length of games throughout the season would be nice. Sure, automatic IBB (someone above described it as a “surrender” — would love a ceremonial knee, or handover of cap, or something), reduce replay time, whatever, as long as it doesn’t really affect the play. But none of these recent rules changes/proposals are likely to have a material effect.

    To add to the points about advertising, pitching changes, etc, I think game length is too deeply embedded in playing style: pitchers have to face better hitters throughout the lineup than in the days of the 2-hour game, in part because of the DH, but more because players are drawn from a much larger pool of athletes, who come from institutionalized training programs (even most weak hitters over the last few decades have been able to punish mistake pitches). More than just frequent pitching changes, the virtual elimination of complete games from the culture means that pitchers have little reason to economize on the mound. Two hour games happened when pitchers threw the ball in the zone and let hitters make contact. Now hitters are trained to work deeper counts, pitchers are fighting for strikeouts . . . this all makes sense based on what we know about effective in-game strategy, but it’s going to swamp any efforts to speed play through pitch clocks, etc.

    More generally, the sheer money and attention involved means that each at bat has much higher stakes than a hundred years ago. Players competing in a billion dollar industry, with seemingly endless media coverage and further analysis by casual fans online, are not likely to let up during any single at bat, and fight everywhere they can for an extra half-second to prepare, breathe, get their pitch/stance set.

    Some winter I’m going to sit down and finally watch my 1969 World Series DVDs (longest game 2:33, usually about 2:15, per BaseballReference). I suspect there was a lot of contact in early counts and faster time between pitches

    • jeer9

      More than just frequent pitching changes, the virtual elimination of complete games from the culture means that pitchers have little reason to economize on the mound. Two hour games happened when pitchers threw the ball in the zone and let hitters make contact. Now hitters are trained to work deeper counts, pitchers are fighting for strikeouts . . . this all makes sense based on what we know about effective in-game strategy, but it’s going to swamp any efforts to speed play through pitch clocks, etc.

      Plus 3 and 2 count.

      • Rob in CT

        Yeah, there is a lot of truth in this.

        Teams now value patience & power. It’s a very “three true outcomes” game now (Ks, Walks, HRs). The fastest game happens when a bunch of hackers make outs in 1-3 pitch ABs.

    • DamnYankees

      While I love an occasional long, dramatic game (especially in the postseason), anything to cut the average length of games throughout the season would be nice.

      This is a position I don’t quite understand. One of the things I love most about baseball is that for 6 months or so, it’s just always…there. The joy of regular season games, to me, is that they are always being played. There are so many of them, that they rarely have individual importance. The joy and beauty of baseball is not found in the due-or-die nature of each and every game (like you get in football, or college basketball, where even one loss early in the season can be devestating). The joy is in the game itself, in each individual matchup, or different trends or patterns that come up within a particular stretch of the season.

      I don’t want regular season games to be shorter. I mean, I don’t want them to be longer, per se. I just don’t think their length matters all that much. You don’t need to watch an entire regular season game. You can pop in in the 3rd inning and leave in the 7th. And its great. It’s background noise if you want it to be, and its algebra if you want that instead.

      I think this is why baseball has such a great balance, and why its length doesn’t harm it (for me at least). I don’t mind a long game in June, because it’s something to have on in the living room at any time of day or night. And I don’t mind a long game in September, because it’s tense as hell and really exciting. I love it as is.

      • MyNameIsZweig

        Yes to all of this.

        • Mellano

          I guess I’m just at a point in my life where I have time to turn on the middle innings after dinner, but if a mid-summer game threatens to turn into a contest of pitching matchups or a slowly building blowout, I surrender quickly to zone out on the internet/with a book/go to bed. Games are always on, but it’s hard to get into the rhythm of a full nine-inning game.

    • efgoldman

      Two hour games happened when pitchers threw the ball in the zone and let hitters make contact. Now hitters are trained to work deeper counts, pitchers are fighting for strikeouts . . .

      And in fact, the increase in Ks has been noted in a lot of places. Strikeouts take longer than a ground out or fly ball on the second or third pitch.

      • liberalrob

        “Strikeouts are boring, besides that they’re fascist…throw some ground balls.”

  • paulgottlieb

    An intentional walk is an open admission of cowardice, and if you’re too yellow to confront the hitter, you should be forced to go through a public ritual where you openly confess your cowardice.The automatic walk allows the cowards to hide their cowardice from public view. It’s like letting Republicans conceal the actual voting on their cruelest and stupidest legislation

    • McAllen

      This seems about as silly and faux-macho as saying a punt is an open admission of cowardice. Sure, often it’s a sign of over-caution, but sometimes it’s the right tactical decision.

    • liberalrob

      I forget where I heard it (Bill James?) but along with eliminating the pretty much useless and pro-forma 4-wide dance they could allow the batter to decline to take his base on ball 4, intentional or otherwise.

  • jeer9

    Baseball is fine and does not need to be tinkered with. (Okay, I’d prefer video-controlled balls and strikes, but that wouldn’t impact length of game much at all; and reviews should not take more than a minute or two.) If you’re bored by a five-hour 10-9 Red Sox/Yankee game, you really have no business calling yourself a fan. Do something else and stop trying to meddle in a sport you don’t actually appreciate. No one’s stopping you from leaving after the seventh inning and there are some cities (cough, LA, cough) where this is a deeply cherished tradition. It’s even easier to change the channel or turn off the tube.

    I really hate watching pitchers bat (with rare exceptions: Bumgarner, Valenzuela and a few more) but I would never advocate that, if the bases were empty, an out should immediately be assigned to speed up the game. Crazy improbable things happen (Colon hitting a HR) which makes each at-bat and pitch an integral part of the process. Messing with the process in order to shorten game time is foolish and counter-productive. (And while I can remember with some fondness Spaceman Lee, a notoriously fast worker, throwing a 90 minute shutout, if I’d been a fan of the opposing team I’d have wanted the game to last a lot longer.)

    • Breadbaker

      Sorry, I’m a fan and I am bored stiff by a five-hour Red Sox/Yankee game, regardless of the score. But those games would not be sped up by this rule at all.

      • Rob in CT

        Regardless of score? See that I don’t get.

        A high-scoring game is going to take longer. A 10-9 slugfest *could* be played at a fairly crisp pace and still take a while.

      • BethRich52

        Oh yes. Those long 2004 ALCS games were so boring.

      • MyNameIsZweig

        Bored stiff? Nah. But I’m still not gonna watch those games, because I hate both teams involved.

    • CrunchyFrog

      Okay, I’d prefer video-controlled balls and strikes, but that wouldn’t impact length of game much at all

      I wonder. Today a batter has to swing at a close pitch because he never knows what mood the buffoon behind the plate is in right now. The pitcher has to fiddle to “find the strike zone” – since apparently a lot of umpire’s feel that strike zones are examples of their artistic individual expression.

      So, let’s automate it. Every pitch has a predictable result. Now, there would still be a grey area in which a ball might be either a strike or ball, but it’s much much narrower.

      Does that speed up a game? I dunno. I think it would be worth a try. Your best hitters would be able to lay off anything not definitely in the zone, forcing the best pitchers to go in the zone to get strikes.

      • efgoldman

        So, let’s automate it.

        Anything which gets Joe West out of the game is a public good.
        Years ago, when MLB broke the umps union, Gammons said it was primarily so they could eliminate bad umps, and used West as the specific example. A lot of good THAT did.

      • liberalrob

        What it would (in theory) eliminate is arguments over balls and strikes. Of course, that’s been part of the game since day 1 too, and some people enjoy those manager vs. umpire dustups…

  • Breadbaker

    For those of you who argue the DH rule somehow slows down play, I’d love to see your evidence. AFAIK the slowest average game times were all NL teams.

  • Marlowe

    I’m not the kind of baseball fan who can plausibly call himself a “traditionalist” or “purist.” I’m a fan of the DH and booth review. I adhere to no just-so story about some sort of “golden age” that just happens to correspond to my childhood when the game was better in some unspecified way than it is today.

    I could’t disagree more. Before I lost interest in baseball (the early ’90s at latest), I was a huge traditionalist. I not only think baseball was better in the era when I was a huge fan (beginning in 1963 when I was nine into the late ’80s when I lived and died with the Yankees), but that it was even better in prior eras. I read everything in the library on baseball when I was a kid and can still describe the Merkle boner of 1908. IMO, the greatest moment in baseball history was Bobby Thomson’s homer for the Giants (of New York) in 1951–two years before I was born.

    You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but I am somewhat miffed by your statement that fans like me think the game was better in olden days in “some unspecified way.” My objections are very specific, if probably petty and unwarranted in your view. As a 16-year old purist, I was unhappy with the introduction of playoffs in 1969; they’re fine in other sports, in baseball the pennant race should be king. I really hated the introduction of the DH in 1973; while I loved Ron Blomberg (never many Jewish players for a Jewish kid to follow) I don’t like that he is primarily remembered as the first DH. I hated the gradual extinction of the complete game and the ever increasing parade of relievers. I’d like to see what would happen to a manager who tried to take the ball from Bob Gibson with two on and two outs in the 7th inning of a close game. (Yes, I know if Bob Gibson came up today he would accept the current system as a matter of course, but my point is still valid. To me at least.)

    • CrunchyFrog

      Funnily enough most people who think that the 50s were the greatest era in baseball are from the New York area.

  • BethRich52

    Some baseball games are boring. Some baseball games are exciting. Length of the games has nothing to do with the excitment quotient. Nor will tinkering with the rules change this.

  • wengler

    The truth is this: people who don’t like baseball just don’t like it. Many might say the game is too long or boring.

    Baseball is boring. And you know what else is boring? All spectator sports. Life is boring. But just like life, baseball is punctuated by moments of game-changing action. And just like life, if you really focus on the inside game you can appreciate every pitch.

    As someone who watches around 200 baseball games a year(albeit while doing other things, changes I’d like to see have to do with the moments that break up the flow of the game. Intentional walks isn’t one of those. I love watching intentional walks. The pitcher is usually loathe to give them, and seeing the disgust on his face and the accuracy(or inaccuracy) with which he throws to the catcher is an interesting part of the game.

  • semiotix

    The DH rule was, as all right-thinking baseball fans know FOREVER AND EVER SO SHUT UP IF YOU DISAGREE, a stinking abomination shat out by Satan himself.

    This is worse, because at least the DH accomplishes the stupid and unnecessary aim of making a bit more offense and a bit less substitution. We don’t actually need that, but if you want it, at least the DH rule gives it to you.

    This serves no baseball-related purpose whatsoever.

    I completely agree with the article cited above. You don’t make this change because you want to perfect baseball; you make it because you don’t give a shit about baseball in the first place. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Major League Baseball, Inc.

  • Dilan Esper

    I hate the pitching changes, love complete games, and my modest proposal would be to sharply limit the number of roster slots for pitchers.

    But my suspicion is the pitching pool has been diluted so much by expansion that the games would still take forever.

    • CrunchyFrog

      “Diluted by expansion”? Compared to what era? You won’t find an era where there were better pitchers on average than today. There were 16 teams in 1960 – the last year with as few teams. There are 30 now. That growth is in line with population growth in the US, but that’s just the start. The MLB draws from a population base that is much larger than in 1960 – latin America, the full black population (at that time teams still had an unspoken limit to the number of black players they’d take), plus even some from Asia.

      Then add in medical. Pitching careers were much shorter on average then – very common to have pitchers retire with “sore arms” – what we now know are things like rotator cuff injuries that are routinely fixed and the pitchers play for many more years. And non-pitching injuries would also take out a large chunk of the population from even considering a baseball career – polio and other illnesses still were prevalent, or had been for people of baseball playing age at the time.

      And then there is opportunity. Scouting was much more hit-and-miss back then, and minor league players made shit wages (major leaguers weren’t much better – except for the all-star talents almost all of them had winter jobs to pay the bills). An unknown, but significant, number of talented but raw young men chose to start careers and play for local semi-pro leagues rather than commit to minor leagues.

      Finally, training. Modern training gets the pitchers to reach pinnacles that very few in 1960 would have dreamed of. If you transported a few pitchers from today back to 1960 they’d have record low ERAs and be amazed at how badly the batters struggled. The reason they don’t do that today is because while the pitchers have improved so have the batters, and for the same reason.

      I don’t know what it is about baseball. Show someone a tape of a 1960 game in almost any other sport (exception: football/soccer) and no one would dream of thinking that the players or teams there were playing at anything like the level that they are today. I guess baseball just looks like it’s about the same.

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