Sabernomics » Simple Rules to Speed Up the Game

April 28, 2008 | Baseball | By: Mark VandeWettering

The Sabernomics blog has some suggested rule changes that might serve to speed up the game. I haven’t blogged about a baseball related topic in a while, so I thought I’d toss my two cents worth in.

First of all, I’m not certain there is a pervasive problem with baseball games taking too long. How long is too long for a baseball game, and how did you decide? To me, baseball games have a certain pace. Yes, some of them are rather plodding affairs, but perhaps no more so than other sports such as football or basketball. Those games have a system of timing and timeouts that are supposed to keep the game moving, but the reality is that as the game should become more exciting, timeouts slow the pace down. Defenses are reset. Challenges to plays on the field are issued. Intentional fouls halt play and result in an official handing the ball to one side or the other.

Even if you accept that perhaps a 3 hour 9 inning game is too long, it’s not clear that any rule changes need to happen to change it. There are some pitchers that are just insanely slow and dawdling, and others work a a reasonable clip. Mark Mulder pitched a lot of games in 2:20, and a few memorable ones below two hours. It’s possible to manage without any rule changes. Section 8.04 says that the pitcher has to deliver the ball within 12 seconds of receiving it from the catcher, with the penalty being a called ball. Obvious delays are supposed to be punished by the umpires. Some guys really dawdle out there on the mound.

The linked post suggests a few other good ideas. I think eliminating the 8 warm up tosses might be a good idea, but in any case, the rules say that the 8 pitches should be completed in less than a minute, and that the league is free to limit the number of warm up tosses further within the rules. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to limit these, but I think the deeper problem lies in the number of pitchers substitutions that we see late in games. You don’t see starters pitching complete games anymore: you have middle relievers, and setup guys, and closers. The idea is that by doing things this way, you limit injuries caused by overpitching, but I think that as a result, we see people throwing harder earlier in games (often with mediocre control), and so I’m skeptical that this practice has reduced actual injuries among pitchers.

I think that it’s important to allow batters to step out of the box. Baseball is really two games, the game that’s played between the pitcher and the batter, and between the ball and fielders. The first phase requires a careful balance between the pitcher and the batter. Requiring a batter to take a pitch that he’s unprepared for shifts that balance (as, it must be said) is allowing pitchers to pitch very slowly. I’d be loathe to change this balance too much.

Eliminating unlimited time outs probably wouldn’t help that much. Yes, it’s kind of irksome when the pitching coach trots out slowly, then back, only to have the coach pull a pitchers a few seconds later. But the crowd usually turns pretty strongly against such delaying tactics (at least by the visitors), just as they do about feeble attempts to pick off runners.

Eliminating arguments? Frankly, they don’t annoy me at all. They are almost always the result of a close play, and are to a first approximation never overturned, so there isn’t a huge advantage to pursuing them for a long time, since they aren’t going to change the outcome. I am dead set against any kind of instant replay rules in baseball, because just like timeouts, they slow the pace of the game by introducing an element which doesn’t happen on the field.

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