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Pace of Play: A real problem in Baseball?

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Are changes needed to the pace of play?

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies-Fan Event Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

As I’m sure you’ve heard, one of the commissioner’s main goals since starting his tenure has been to improve the pace of play in baseball. Baseball, a sport renowned for their tradition, has obviously had a fairly mixed response to this initiative.

In 2014, the commissioner at the time Bud Selig, announced the formation of a committee to examine the issue. Manfred who served on that committee and succeeded Selig began to implement some changes to the game of baseball to combat the issue.

“A guy gets in the batter’s box, ball one, and now he’s adjusting all this crap he has on,” Selig said. “And I’m thinking to myself watching the game, ‘What is he adjusting? He hasn’t swung the bat.’ ”

Here’s a list of the changes that have been implemented so far courtesy of MLB.com

  • Batter’s Box Rule: requires hitters to keep one foot in the box during their time at bat minus specific exceptions
  • Reduction of Commercial Break time: Reduced time between innings by 25 seconds.
  • Pitcher Warm-up: 25 seconds for pitcher warm up, batter announced at 20 seconds and wind up must begin before the final 5 seconds pass.
  • Mound Visits: Implemented a 30 second limit once the coach/manager exits the dugout, limited to a max of 5 mound visits.
  • Automatic Intentional Walks: Instead of having to throw 4 pitches, the coach can now call for the intentional walk.

So what impact did the rule changes have? Well, mild at best, according to Fangraphs. With their belief being that the time is more linked to batter’s readjustment’s to gear and practice swing than a Pitcher’s speed.

Proposed Changes:

  • Pitch Clock
  • 3-Batter Minimum for Relievers
  • Runner on second in Extra innings

There was a significant debate on implemented a pitch clock this season, seemingly coming down to moments before the beginning of the season before the MLB backed down with the MLBPA disagreeing with the proposed change. The pitch clock has been implemented in the minor leagues and from a high level perspective, had a minimal impact.

Ultimately, Manfred put out an ultimatum, if the games averaged under 2:55 for 9 innings, the pitch clock would not be implemented. Last month when Forbes looked at it, there has been roughly a 6 minute reduction, but it sat at 3:00:58 as of their report.

Fangraphs found the batter to be a larger factor in the equation. With our own, Marwin Gonzalez being the front man for slow pace, earning him the title of Human Rain Delay. They did find that the fines that were put in place for batters stepping out of the box had a positive impact but were removed after the 2015 season. FiveThirtyEight found foul balls to be another large contributing factor without a true solution.

Beyond the Box Score created a chart to show the length of games vs runs scored.
Beyondtheboxscore.com

Our sister site did an article that included an evaluation on the 3-batter minimum rule, focusing particularly on the 1-out specialists. There were 1,188 times last season that the specialist was used, which equates to roughly one every other game. This obviously does not encompass the full rule change, but if you look at it more holistically, while it does change some strategic aspects of the game, it could result in an average of 3 minutes less play per game.

The runner at second rule, I’m vehemently against. Personally, I don’t think extra inning play is the concern as there is an added level of excitement, and to me this fundamentally changes the game.

Obviously the evolution of baseball plays an important dynamic in the pace of play. With Relievers taking longer than Pitchers per pitch as well as more warm-up time, there’s an element that without changes will continue to exacerbate the issue. FiveThirtyEight found that as velocity has increased so has the time between pitches.

Why does all of this matter? Well, baseball is a declining sport. For the second year straight, attendance is down. There is a myriad of reasons for this ranging from the infamous super team / tanking teams, the rising cost of attendance, offense being down, three true outcome baseball, pace of play, etc. BeyondTheBoxScore’s analysis also captured another staggering figure, that the average fan of baseball is 55 years old. How does that compare to other sports? NFL - 48, NHL - 45, NBA - 38.

Honestly, the influx of money from TV deals has made the attendance a lower percentage of the overall revenue even considering without the change in attendance. Baseball needs to evolve, and arguments against the evolution fall somewhat short with me. People shout from the roof tops about tradition, but take a step back. The number of games? Changed. The Pitchers mound? Changed. The ball itself? Changed. The Designated Hitter wasn’t added until 1973. I mean the list goes on and on of fundamental changes to the game of baseball that makes cross-era comparisons unrealistic already.

There have been numerous prospective changes to the game of baseball, quite a few of which, I have not been a big fan of. But some of the proposed changes for pace of play don’t fundamentally change the game. The question to me is if the changes are big enough to drive the issue to bring in younger audiences.

I’m intrigued to see the different ideas that come to fruition to ease this problem, with things like limiting “time out” calls after sliding into bases feeling like more of a nuisance than a true time saver. I do believe the pitch clock will be implemented, even with the added focus at the beginning of the season - players have not been able to get the time under the 2:55 mark.

Don’t believe me that the pace of play is too long? Here’s the ENTIRE Kentucky Derby run in the amount of time between Zach Greinke pitches.

What are your thoughts? Are changes needed? What rules would you implement?

Poll

Are pace of play changes needed?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Yes
    (64 votes)
  • 27%
    No
    (37 votes)
  • 24%
    Meh
    (33 votes)
134 votes total Vote Now