Pacing a MLB game

The San Francisco Giants are off to a hot start, but have lost lead off man/crash test dummy, Aaron Rowand, for at least the near future after he was hit in the face by a Vicente Padilla fastball during Friday night's loss to the Dodgers. Rowand will have to be re-examined to determine how much time he will have to miss or if a DL trip is necessary.

San Francisco starting pitcher Todd Wellemeyer made a point that I had brought up earlier in the week concerning the size of the strike zone. Wellemeyer felt that the zone was a little smaller than it probably should have been, especially on a 3-2 fastball that was called for a ball:

It didn't even leave the plate, Wellemeyer said. It didn't even get black. It was white the whole way. ... It changes things when you walk the leadoff guy instead of striking him out.

I don't know if this is just a case of a scorned starting pitcher complaining about how a game was called, or if Wellemeyer has a legitimate beef with the home plate umpire. It certainly appears that the strike zone is a lot tighter than it has been in years past though.

This is on the heels of an umpire actually calling out the Yankees and Red Sox for playing their games at a glacier like pace. True, their games do tend to move slower than most, but it's a function of a lot of things that an umpire doesn't really have control over. Namely: 1) hitters taking and fouling off a lot of pitches 2) increased calls to the bullpen and 3) ESPN. When their games are on ESPN, that means a lot of commercials, or at least more than there would be on a regular baseball telecast. Playing 3.5 hour marathons is almost an inevitability when you consider how many commercials appear between innings and pitching changes.

What steps could be taken to speed up the process? Well, not granting time outs to every batter who requests one could be a start. The batting glove routine of the Nomar Garciaparra's of the world could be eliminated by mandating that batters must remain in the batter's box once they enter, or they can leave only to have a practice swing or two.

Those are changes that would almost assuredly cut some time off the overall game-times without altering the style of play all that much. But what if umpires expanded the strike zone and called more strikes? Wouldn't this be the ultimate manner of quickening the pace of a game? Of course, the quality of this batter-pitcher interaction, what the sport is based around, determines the quality of play in large part so I would be wary to recommend this actually happen. Still, when pitchers have an envelope sized space to throw to in order to be credited with a strike, batters are going to pummel pitches with impunity as a result...unless you're the Astros, of course.

Then again, I don't even know if the game even needs to be sped up. For me, 15-20 minutes of extra on field time doesn't cramp my style. But with more entertainment options than ever before, game speed factors in to whether or not a casual fan watches a baseball game over a movie, or any range of TV programs. Baseball isn't the fastest paced sport to begin with and the ADD generation coming up will probably head elsewhere for entertainment.

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