Major League Baseball has a pace-of-play problem. This is not breaking news, but for a baseball purist like me, admitting that the games are taking too long was a tough pill to swallow. I like baseball because it is slow. You can talk between pitches, grab a beer at the concession stand and get back to your seat before the at bat is over, and relish at the fact it is the only major Western sport that doesn’t have a clock (not counting tennis or golf here). This is a good thing, because resilient teams with comparative talent can technically perform better against their opponents at any point during the game. The White Sox could be trailing the Orioles by 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth and still come back and win (even in my hypotheticals, the Orioles lose...that’s payback for Game 162 in 2011). And those comebacks can be spectacular, like the real life comeback the Red Sox staged against the (you guessed it) Orioles on Mother’s Day 2007...
But the average time of an MLB game crossed the three hour threshold in 2012 and peaked in 2017 with an average game time of 3:08. Last season, the average game time dropped down about six minutes (depending on your source...the numbers vary from website to website). This is a good thing for sure, but I mean...for those of us who rise early for work on the East Coast, watching a Red Sox/A’s night game in Oaktown is simply impractical.
Amazingly, an average MLB game lasts a shorter amount of time than a current NFL game. But the NFL also has a halftime, and tons of commercial breaks. Plus, your favorite NFL team plays once a week (twice occasionally). The Red Sox will play at least five times in seven days, so at 3+ hours, you’re looking at at least 15 hours of baseball a week. That’s a lot of time to dedicate to watching a sport. Here are some other times…
NBA - 2:15 Min.
NHL - 2:30 Min.
In basketball and hockey, the action is almost constant. In football, each play call could mean the game, so there’s almost SOMETHING on the line at every turn. In baseball, over one hour of game time is spent on the time between pitches. OVER.ONE.HOUR. Yikes.
Baseball has explored some solutions. The pitch clock comes to mind, but the timid and milquetoast commissioner of the league, Rob Manfred does not have the stones to commit to a short pitch delivery time. Manfred wants to start the pitch clock at either 30 or 25 seconds. Well, the slowest deliverer in the bigs in 2017 the Angels’ Matt Shoemaker, took 26.6 seconds to deliver the baseball. So who is this really affecting? No one. Even David Price, a notoriously slow worker, is under 25 seconds (barely). Plus, in a game with no clock, let’s not introduce one arbitrarily. If Manfred wants to go all hardcore and set a 10 second pitch clock (Chris Sale’s average delivery time with no runners on base) then that’s cool with me. But he won’t. It will start at 30 and we’ll be lucky if he drops it to 25 by 2028.
Another criticism of the game is that it balls are not being put in play enough. Strikeout rates are sky-high, but it’s not like the pitchers are any more dominant than 20 years ago at the height of the steroid era. Philosophies have just changed. There’s been talk about eliminating shifts. This is stupid...players should play where they want. It’s up to the stubborn offensive players to beat the shift. But they are too concerned with 2018’s buzzword “Launch Angles.” Don’t make contact like the 2015 Royals. Make powerful contact, and if you strike out? Meh. Go get ‘em next time.
Translation? There’s just not a ton of action in an MLB game. I often watch the condensed games on MLB’s YouTube channel, and it takes me 15 minutes to see literally all of the action that matters. 15 minutes of action in a three hour game? Yuck.
So what can we do? I’ll address two solutions that I think would work without disrupting the traditions of the game.
The easiest solution would be cut down the amount of innings. Play six instead of nine, like high school ball. But the Red Sox won a TON of games in the eighth inning this year, including World Series game four against the Dodgers. Plus, baseball is a game of threes, and seeing a guy get up three times is great when you’re watching the likes of Mookie Betts or Mike Trout. All the record books would have to reboot harder than DC Comics in 2012. I don’t like this idea, and neither would the players union, as middle relievers would essentially become obsolete again.
My solution is this:
The most amount of pitches a player can see during an at-bat is seven. No exceptions. And, at different times during the AB, the pitcher OR the hitter has the advantage. Allow me to explain.
I hate foul balls. Super boring. In 2118, there will be force fields around the stadium where literally every ball will be in play. But we’re not there yet. So to cut down on fouls, the most you can get in one at bat is five.
If a player goes down 0-2, every pitch delivered that misses the strike zone is still a ball (obviously). But every subsequent foul ball is also a ball. It rewards the hitter for making contact and protecting the plate, but it also speeds up the game. Right now, a guy can go down 0-2 and foul off seven pitches and the count is still 0-2 and we just wasted 3 ½ minutes. But under my proposal, if you foul off three more pitches, the count is now full. It’s the pitcher’s job to get you out. He couldn’t. So now the count is full (we are now at five total pitches...the first two strikes, and the three foul balls that loaded the count).
Once the count is full though, the pitcher regains the advantage. As much is it is his job to get you out, it’s your job to get on base. So if you can’t put the ball in play after going down 0-2 then fouling off five more pitches, you’re out. Sorry man. We’re having issues with putting the ball in play. You gotta get that ball out there. Choke up like it’s little league. Seriously.
So essentially, the hitter gets two more attempts at putting the ball in play on an 3-2 count. If they can’t it’s on them. And if the pitcher walks him, he walks. Just like normal. It forces the pitcher not to nibble, and it forces the hitter to hit for contact, not for power.
Any other count combination would retain the current rules. Stuff doesn’t change on a 2-1 count. It’s just these at bats we are trying to avoid:
That AB alone was 13 MINUTES LONG! And it ended with an out. Could have had an out 14 pitches ago!
Another culprit is the Extra Innings game. I hate extras, because I think nine innings is too long. When the Red Sox and Dodgers played an 18 inning World Series game that took over seven hours to play, baseball purists were pissing themselves with pleasure. “What an epic battle.” “These two teams just won’t give up.” “Gladiators.”
Stop. The game started at 8:30 EDT. There’s nothing good about a seven hour game that starts at 8:30 at night.
So here’s the deal for extras. You get two extra innings to plate more runs than your opponent. After the 11th, the game is over. The team who has the most hits wins. That team was able to reach base more, put the ball in play more, and do the thing in baseball you’re supposed to do more...get freaking hits...will win. It kills two birds with one stone. Knowing that hits matter, teams WILL choke up and try to slap one over the shortstop's head instead of trying to “launch angle” a homer at all costs.
“The Red Sox and Yankees played to a 2-2 tie, but the Sox win in eleven with eight hits over the Yankee’s seven. The game lasted less time than a flight from Boston to San Diego. We're making strides here folks!"
I will give Manfred credit for moving up the Sunday Night Baseball game from 8pm to 7pm this season. But the earlier start times won't change how long the games are. It just means I'll be going to bed in the seventh inning instead of the fifth.
So what do you think? There’s been plenty of ideas thrown out there, but none like this to my knowledge. Let me know in the comment section.
This doesn’t have to do with P.O.P., but I LOVE Tony Mazzarotti’s idea of making MLB series worth points, similar to a hockey game. He suggests that if you sweep a series, you get four points. If you win a series you get three points. If you tie a series (2 or 4 game series only obviously) you get two points. If you lose a series you get a point. If you get swept in a series, zero points. Love this because if you just won 3 games of a four game series, there’s still standings implications on that last game. Brilliant. No more Jimy Williams Sunday lineups featuring bench players. Do you know how many times I saw Pedro Martinez pick up a 1-0 L because Williams sat all his stud players in the same game?
PSS...Just read an article that said that there are still around 200 free agents not signed yet. Nothing too noteworthy got done at the phony bologna Winter Meetings, and so far none of the top free agents have moved, causing the market to stand still yet again (if you remember last year, J.D. Martinez didn't sign with the Sox until Spring Training had started) I mean...nothing this sports entity does moves quickly. Michael Felger suggested that there should be a deadline in place for players to sign, or else they can't join a team until May 1. Again...love the idea. Let's get this game moving in the right direction.
Photo: Fox Sports