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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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