By In Baseball

Baseball from the plane

A couple of baseball thoughts on the flight to Phoenix as football’s biggest week begins.

There is some talk now — not yet serious talk, I don’t think, but talk still — about adding a pitcher’s clock to speed up baseball games and some sort of ban on defensive shifts to open up offense. These are two ideas to address two of baseball’s biggest problems. One, the games are too long. Two, teams aren’t scoring enough runs.

You could argue a lot of things here. You could argue that one or the other are not really problems but, instead, are simply phases the game is going through right now. A decade ago, any idea to help teams score MORE runs would have been viewed as nonsensical. And for all the grumbling about pace of play — much of it, admittedly, coming from this blog — more people are going to baseball games and watching baseball games than ever before.

So you could argue that these aren’t real problems. You could argue that even if they are real problems, they will work out themselves. You could argue that these solutions wouldn’t work. You could also argue that even if these solutions did work they would cause other even more difficult problems.

What strikes me instead is why I love baseball so much.

First, foremost, I love baseball so much because I grew up with it. If I had grown up in South Africa, Malaysia, Spain or Krypton, I might not like baseball. If I had grown up in a small American town nowhere near a major league city, I might not like baseball. If I had grown up with a father whose life revolved around auto racing or the theater or building an ark to prepare for an upcoming flood, I might not like baseball.

But, instead, I grew up with a father who had only just moved to the UnIted States a couple of years before I was born and who believed that an American boy needed to know about baseball. Our earliest family movies are of me swinging a plastic bat. One of my earliest memories is of massive Cleveland Municipal Stadium, that bowling alley smell of stale beer and cigarettes, the way my feet stuck to the floor, the wind off Lake Erie, being surrounded by factory workers yelling, “Spit on it, Gaylord!” I was raised to love baseball, and I do, deeply, intently, more than ever.

That doesn’t mean that I think baseball should stay the same. I may be fooling myself, but I don’t consider myself a baseball purist … at least not as I understand the phrase. I would love to see baseball make changes to stay with the times. Sometimes on email, Tom Tango and Bill James and I will bat around ideas about how to quicken the pace of play, how to make the intentional walk less appealing to managers, how to make regular season extra innings more exciting, how to construct modern pitching rotations and so on. Some of these idea are pretty out there; those are the ideas I usually find most intriguing.

So, why do I find the pitchers clock and a ban on the shift so distasteful?

I think it is because they cut against the very things I love about baseball. Start with the pitcher’s clock. I do believe that the games are too long and, more to the point, there is too much non-action in them. Pitchers do work too slowly, and hitters do step out of the box too much, and it’s possible that a pitcher’s clock would speed things up. I guess there were some promising results in the Arizona Fall League.

But I loathe the idea, absolutely loathe it, and I think it’s because one of the best things about baseball for me is that it is the one game without a clock. How many times through the years has baseball been celebrated with THOSE EXACT WORDS: “Baseball has no clock?”

Every other major American sport has a clock and, what’s more, those clocks are becoming more and more tyrannical. We’re timing things to a tenth of a second in basketball and hockey. We’re stopping football games again and again so the referee can ask the scorekeeper “to please put nine seconds back on the clock.” Golfers are on the clock. Tennis players get time warnings. Referees add extra time at the end of soccer matches to make up for time that was lost.

And, with those games, there is always this subtle gnawing feeling that time is slipping away. Do you feel it? I don’t know about you, but whenever watching football on television and they show the play clock ticking down … 5 … 4 … 3 … I get anxious. It’s not a bad feeling, exactly, but it’s definitely a slight nervousness. Will they get the play off? Won’t they get the play off? It’s like a movie scene where someone is trying to defuse a bomb. Yes, clocks are bomb things. Clocks lengthen the work day. Clocks stop in schools. Clocks wake you up in the morning and clocks tell you that your late for a meeting and clocks run out on your favorite teams.

Baseball — it’s an escape from clocks. Baseball is a vacation from clocks. In baseball, there is none of that time anxiety, none of the feeling that every second matters, none of that clock-watching. There’s a certain tranquility, a certain calm in the rhythms of baseball. I don’t want some stupid clock ticking behind a pitcher, people in the stands counting down, pitchers throwing at the last possible second. Baseball is at its best when you can melt into the game. Sure it’s a cliche, but when just right baseball does feel timeless. Who brings a timepiece to a timeless game?

Are baseball games too long? Yes. Do they move too slowly? Sure. You know who can fix that? The umpires. The rules are already in the book. Umpires don’t need a clock to warn a pitcher to pick it up. They don’t need a clock to refuse timeout to a hitter who breaks contact with the batter’s box. The job of an umpire is to not only to get calls right but to keep the game lively and fair, and for too long now I don’t think the people who run baseball or the players themselves have given umpires the freedom to speed up the game. Give them that freedom now. Leave the clocks to the NBA, where they will replay a shot back and forth to see there was a tenth-of-a-second left.

It also wouldn’t hurt if managers would stop changing pitchers five times an inning.

Then there are shifts. Talking about the NBA, one of the things I never liked at all was the old “illegal defense.” I’m OK with defensive three-second violations — you can’t just stand in the lane all day, I get that — but no five-man defense should be illegal. They have five players. You have five players. They try to score. You try to stop them. This is the very essence of basketball, and if you can come up with some amoeba, triangle, jump-trap, Iron Man defense with your five guys that shuts down their offense, then you should be able to use it.

The same is true for me in baseball. The hitter gets a bat. The pitcher gets a ball and seven defenders behind him. The hitter can bunt, bloop, slap, line, crush, fist, chop, pull, slice, yank, top, pop, tick, drag, crack or smack the ball — these are not his only verb possibilities. And the pitcher can throw any variety of pitch, the defense behind him can line up any way they like. Go ahead. Play ball.

To mess with that is to mess with the game. In the last couple of years, teams have started to shift a lot more and this has undoubtedly had an effect on hitters. Batting averages were lower in 2014 than at any point since the designated hitter was introduced. But we’re still at the beginning of this trend. Hitters have not yet adjusted. There are ways to humiliate the shift. If hitters learn to go the other way, they will get hits just about every time. If hitters swallow their pride, they can bunt for a hit with even a lousy bunt. Oh, and if hitters stop striking out at historic rates, their batting averages will go up.

No matter what kind of shift we’re talking about, teams are still only allowed seven fielders behind the pitcher. They’ve been playing baseball for 150 years, and in that time there have been all sorts of trends, times when pitchers reigned, times when hitters dominated, times when stolen bases were a prominent weapon, times when bunts were key, times when every fly ball seemed to leave the park. Through all of it, one hitter against a pitcher and seven fielders has been a fair fight. It’s a fair fight now too. Give hitters the chance to catch up.

OK, the plane has landed in Phoenix. Baseball talk is over. Let’s go see who or what deflated those footballs.

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95 Responses to Baseball from the plane

  1. I always thought the last word on the subject was said by Earl Weaver in an interview just after the Mets had won the 1969 WS from his Orioles, taking the last game, 5-3. The O’s led, 3-0, until the sixth, and someone asked Weaver if at that point he felt confident they’d win the game. “That’s what you can never do in baseball,” he replied. “It’s not football. You can’t run a few plays into the line and kill the clock. You got to throw the ball over the plate and give the other guy a chance to come back.”

    Make the hitter stay in the batter’s box. Even Nomar could go through his routine before most pitchers were ready to pitch. But no clocks, please.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Well, I think you are talking about two different things. No one is suggesting timing the game itself. It’s not the time per se but the pace of the game. One thing, as you say, is to make the hitters stay in the box. But pitchers have a responsibility too. I love watching Doug Fister pitch; he gets the ball and throws. Other pitchers take all day, especially with men on base. People talk about baseball being timeless and not being meant to be played at a fast pace. But it used to be played at a faster pace than it is now.

  2. tangotiger says:

    If let’s say Ortiz were to bunt one time per game (and get on base at a .500 clip), would everyone be ok with seeing that? If so, then fine, we don’t need to do anything about it. If not, then, well…

    If you were to walk Bonds on 4 pitches once per game, would everyone be ok with seeing that? If so, then fine, don’t do anything. If not, then, well…

    If we get 25% of PA end on K, would everyone be ok with seeing that? If so…

    It’s about a style of play that you want to see. Determine that first. Or, if you don’t care what style of play, then the fewer regulations the better. This includes allowing fielders to position themselves in foul territory if they want to, and allowing all pitchers to do what Jordan Walden does by ignoring the foot-on-rubber rule.

    What rules therefore are organic to baseball, and which are regulations that force a style of play?

    • I’m OK with the game, as is. I just want the same game played faster. Although if they want to tinker, that’s fine too. Lowering the mound after 1968 didn’t cause Dodger Stadium to slide into the ocean. The DH didn’t wreck the game, although of course, there are some pros and cons. So, baseball isn’t going to go crazy regardless of what actually end up doing. But, for me, it’s pace of game. I think 2 1/2 hours is about right. I’m not going to get that, but I’d be happy if we got half way there.

  3. lazarusl says:

    If you had been born on Krypton, you would a) be a big baseball fan and b) would prefer the Metropolis Monarchs over the Meteors.

  4. tangotiger says:

    As for the clock: all we need is to give each team nine timeouts per game, which includes batter stepping out of box, and pitcher not delivering the pitcher as per the rule ALREADY on the books, and manager visits and defensive huddles, etc. Suddenly, batters won’t step out of box so quickly. Take onus off the umpire, and simply count timeouts.

    • Richard Aronson says:

      I like the idea, but I think it’s potentially dangerous. If you have a guy throwing wild heat, do you want batters in the box before they are physically or mentally ready? Maybe 18, one per half inning for offense, one for defense?

      • oilcan23 says:

        Either of these ideas beats the status quo, wherein each team is granted an unlimited number and allowed to use them whenever they please.

    • This idea would allow one time out, per team, per inning. That would extend, at the most, 18 pitches per game…. out of 250-300 pitches. So, 5% of all pitches, roughly. It’s a good compromise. Defensive & Catcher/Pitcher huddles should be largely unneeded. Teams should already have their game plans together. With the odd crucial pitch where the pitcher and catcher seem to have a disagreement about the pitch type/location, they could simply call one of their timeouts. Otherwise, play the game.

    • buddaley says:

      I don’t see that as a solution but as another unnecessary rule. Just leave it to the umpires, with clear instructions to them to use common sense to keep the game moving, to decide whether a batter should get a time out or whether the pitcher has to deliver the ball quicker. The rules that the umpire can do that exist now.

      I don’t like the notion that the game has to be absolutely uniform in all things. I like the umpire’s having some discretion in applying rules about keeping the game moving. Every game is different-a living organism in a way-and uniformity kills that. It is one reason I prefer the variety of dimensions in fields rather than the perfect rectangles in most other sports.

      It is also why I loathe the manager challenge rules. It adds a tactical issue to the game that has nothing to do with the actual playing of the game. Should a manager challenge in the third inning or save it for later? Yuck. If it really is so important to get every call absolutely right, have every play automatically reviewable from the booth and immediately call down changes. Otherwise, accept that of the hundreds of calls every game, a few may not be exactly right.

      The only area I think it might be worth considering establishing a new rule is changing pitchers. There are numerous suggestions about how to tweak that-limits on the number of changes per inning, requirement to face X number of batters et al-and those might have some value. I am not sure some such rule would improve the game, but it is possible.

  5. Richard Aronson says:

    I completely agree with you on the shift. Besides, something that creates more outs shortens the total game time. No shifts means more offense means more batters means longer games.

    Although I agree that it’s overused, I think calling for an intentional walk and making it just happen, zero pitches, would speed up the game as well as save rotate cuffs and ulnar collateral medial tendons for pitchers and catchers four pitches. Improves health and makes the game a little faster: I’m for it. It’s better than Sal Maglie’s approach, and why try to read minds between an unintentional walk and pitching very carefully.

    As for the clock, I think in this era of instant replay and computer verified strike zones, umpires are concerned about judgement calls like not allowing batters to call time. So a black/green/yellow/red clock would make sense to me. Black, maybe five seconds, and the pitcher cannot quick pitch the batter. Green, pitcher can release it, batter can ask for time. AFAIC if a pitcher has begun a pitching motion, time should not be granted; that will reduce some time. Yellow, the batter will no longer be granted time. Red, and it’s a ball and the clock resets to black. Two reds in a single at bat and it’s a ground rule double. That way the clock is enforcing the rules already in the rulebook, so umps aren’t worried about getting dinged for an issue involving player safety. Pitchers can ask for time to reset the clock, talk to the infielders, but no more than two per inning. If both have been used, managers don’t get to make a long walk to the mound; as soon as the manager enters the field, he walks to the umpire and tells him who the new pitcher is. Let’s face it, most managers are slow; why make them walk all the way to the mound and all the way back?

    Thank you for the article. The reason why I love baseball but only like football: no NFL player ever said “Let’s play two.”

  6. Maybe what MLB can do is keep the clock in the minors. The players and umpires in the minors will eventually be promoted to MLB and have that “inner clock” that tells them to speed things along. But good luck getting some MLB ump that’s been on the job for 30 years to change his ways and start telling pitchers to hurry up.

    • William says:

      This, to me, is indicative of a problem is major league sports. Any employee in 99% of companies needs to adjust to what management says needs to be done. Why are umpires exempt? Tell them to speed up the game and then demote the ones that do not. It has taken years to get players to take more pitches and some teams simply trade or release the ones that do not play with the priorities that management puts in place.

      This fits in with one of the main points of the article. If a defense shifts, then why won’t the players hit against the shift? This would stop it more quickly than anything else. GM’s and managers should be convincing their players that this is better than trying to drive it through the shift every time.

      As to pace of play, I do not like the idea of the pitch clock, but something has to be done. I love baseball, but find it more boring than I can stand when a 3-2 game lasts well over three hours. Non fans point to the slowness of the game as it is.

      Would speeding up the pace of play be such a bad thing?

      • nightfly says:

        One issue is the scarcity of people capable of being a major league sports official. If I refuse management’s requests while waiting tables or typing and filing, there are fifty thousand other slobs willing to do it once I’ve been dumped on the sidewalk. But an umpire or referee has to have something significantly amiss – witness the continued employment of Angel Hernandez – before he gets the sack. Merely being told “speed things up or else” carries much less weight when the alternative is someone who keeps things moving but is worse at the actual nuts-and-bolts of calling the game.

        And that goes doubly for the actual players. Sure it’d be great if they simply listened to managers and GMs and went against the shift and dropped bunts… to say nothing of the willingness to practice those things enough to be at least passable at them. But if they refuse? People don’t shift Quad-A guys or journeymen. The type of player who faces shifts is exactly the type of player whom you would struggle to replace. If a dead-pull 30-homer guy who fields well won’t modify his approach to the plate, are you going to replace him with Gritty McTriple-A and miss the postseason on a principle? And will it really hurt the star player, who will just go on to some other city and hit into the teeth of someone else’s shifts – but also hit 30 homers and field his position well?

        If you’re patient and willing to wait, you can make it institutional so that players or officials coming up through the ranks learn these techniques – this way you don’t have to worry about retraining the few who are good enough to make the majors, anyone who proves good enough are already trained.

      • Bill Caffrey says:

        The “3-2 game [that] lasts well over three hours” is mostly a myth though. The average length of time of all games in 2014 was 3 hours, 2 minutes. I believe that includes extra innings, 12-9 slugfests, everything. Since there are obviously many high scoring and extra inning games that do take well over 3 hours, if there were also low-scoring 9-inning games taking well over 3 hours with any frequency, there is no way the average length could be 3:02.

        In 1981, the average length was 2:33, so it is up a half hour from 33 years ago, but I think much of the talk makes the problem sound worse than it is.

        The team with the LONGEST average game length was the Rays, at 3:12.

        I’m a Mets fan. Most of their games start at 7:05 or 7:10. Their average was 3:01. I suppose cutting 12-15 minutes off that would be nice, but frankly it makes little difference to me whether the game ends at 9:53 or at 10:06 p.m. I’m probably just in front of my computer or TV for those 13 minutes either way, so what’s the difference?

  7. coolromeo says:

    Do you know what clock already makes me nervous during a baseball game? My watch. When I’m at a game and my watch says it’s nine o’clock and it’s only the fifth inning. I think about how long it will take to get home and why oh why didn’t I just stay home and watch it on tv. If MLB wants me back at the ballpark, it should try and make it a pleasurable experience instead of an anxious one.

    And it’s nice to trust the umpires, but they were unable to enforce the new strike zone and haven’t they been asked before to speed up the game? Umpires are set in their ways too. The only way to guarantee different behavior is with something objective like a clock.

    • A few thoughts.

      I’m with Joe. No clocks. And there already is a time limit, and umpires have discretion. What Joe misses is this: umpires have no reason–none–to believe that MLB would back them up if they got tough. Whose complaints will matter to Rob Manfred (or would have mattered to Bud Lite)? The owners who hired him and whose players are upset, or the umpires? Not hard to figure out. And the sad fact about that is that calling the full strike zone might get players swinging–except that waiting deep into the count helped the Yankees win four straight World Series, right? Isn’t THAT part of baseball?

      The Vin–there is only one, and he should be lionized as such–has said that when he was a kid and went to a game, he was upset if it went too fast. I see his point. But baseball has to take into account the human attention span, which was greater during Mr. Scully’s youth in the 1930s and 1940s than it is today. Possibly there could be more going on at the ballparks or on the telecasts to help–not quite Bill Veeck’s grandstand managers, but something like it to involve people more in the game itself? Also, those of us who adore The Vin don’t react well when other broadcasters launch into discussions of their golf games, so this might even keep them on the subject, too.

      I read that there’s talk of reducing the time between innings by reducing the time allotted to warm up. Oh, but not the two minutes of commercials, which now often run to about 2:30 while the players throw around a baseball for the zillionth time in a year? I remember that the American League once fined John Shulock for starting innings early because he got fed up. Let’s see what happens if we hurry the players between innings.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        I don’t think the human attention span was greater in the 50s than today. But the games were a lot shorter. It’s one thing to say you want the games to be longer when they are two hours; it’s another when they are 3 1/2 to 4 hours. And it’s not the time, but the pace, anyway. Those are all different from when Vin Scully was a kid or, for that matter, when I was a kid.

        There is no doubt in my mind that the new approach by hitters, ie, running up pitch counts and so forth, have a lot to do with the length and pace of the games. I don’t think there’s much you can do about that; it’s clearly a more effective approach. But you can certainly make the hitters and pitchers get on with it; they are not doing brain surgery. I agree that, rather than a clock, make the umpires move the damn game along. And, require pitchers to face at least two hitters, which would eliminate the LOOGY and reduce the number of pitching changes.

        As for the commercials, there’s no point complaining about that because that’s what brings in the money. Anyway, the NFL has commercials before and after each kickoff-which drives me crazy-but the games don’t last 4 hours.

    • Sorry, but I go to the games to watch baseball, not my watch. And judging by attendance figures, I am not alone.

      Baseball doesn’t need a clock.

  8. MikeN says:

    Aren’t the two rules working against each other?

  9. Jake Bucsko says:

    I am still wondering why players do not bunt against the shift EVERY TIME. It is a free base, basically. There seems to be some kind of “unwritten rule” (shudder) against it, but obviously that is nonsense. Eventually, some smart batter will bunt against the shift every time until pitchers catch wise, then another, then another.

    • commenter says:

      fangraphs did a little study on this and what cameron or someone “figured out” was that non expert bunts actually fail a good amount of the time in the majors.

      • Grover Jones says:

        Anyone getting paid millions of years should have the time to become an expert bunter.

        • Bono says:

          Better idea: everyone being paid millions of dollars should learn to become an expert home run hitter. Beating the shift with a homer is even more reliable than with a bunt.

        • They spend all that time trying to become expert hitters. That’s why they are horrible at bunting. It’s a skill set that takes a lot of practice; practice that could be better used elsewhere. I remember a few years ago a team tried it against Jeter. He just bunted down the 3rd base line for a hit. They stopped doing it. But if someone like Ortiz tried that? It would probably be a foul ball. And if he does it w/ 2 strikes, he’s out.

          • Both Babe Ruth and Ted Williams were asked about going the opposite way against shifts (today they tend to forget the Boudreau Shift against Williams). Both gave the same answer: that isn’t what the fans came to see. Ted being Ted, of course, he also was determined to hit THROUGH it.

            One of the slowest men in baseball was Ernie Lombardi, the great catcher. Because he was so slow, and such a good hitter, everybody always played him deep. One day, the 3B was so deep, Lombardi bunted and easily beat it out. It was front-page news the next day.

  10. Dennis Croskey says:

    I’d be fine with the “just go to first” no-pitch intentional walk. Saves time, they’ve done it for years in high school.

    As to the shifts, when a LH comes up and the 3B is 60-70 feet toward second, they need to bunt every stinking time. They’d bat .350, there’d be runners on constantly, stressing the P and the defense. I think defenses might straighten up a little on their own after a while if they knew you’d do that.

  11. Gavin B Craigie says:

    Couldn’t agree more Joe. Baseball is unique in so many ways and not having a play clock might be the greatest example. The exaggerated shift will disappear once offences expose it’s weaknesses and not before then. Let the cyclical nature of the game run it’s course. This too shall pass.

  12. Horatio Sands says:

    Why can’t the umpire just have discretion to call a ball or strike if the pitcher or hitter is taking too long? I thought I read somewhere that this exists. Why not just let the ump dictate the pace of the game? Clocks seem like a terrible idea. Just have the ump tell a batter “You’ve got three seconds to move” or tell the same thing to a catcher to relay to the pitcher.

    I will admit that I like the idea of shortening time between innings. Just get rid of the “commercial breaks,” run a little ad or have the announcer plug some product, and keep the game going. Seems to me if we got rid of those breaks (or significantly shortened them), we could shave off 30 minutes or so from a game.

    • commenter says:

      olbermann has a video somewhere from the 90s where he points out baseball tested this in the minors in the 90s (back in his fox or espn days) and it did significantly reduce length without reducing quality

  13. mockprof says:

    No clock! Even the traffic light Mr. Aronson suggests, clever as it is, still would lead to a) wrangling over borderline cases as to whether a pitch or a request for time was made in time, and b) introduce that sense of seconds (rather than opportunities) draining away.

    The suggestion to imprint quicker play on minor leaguers is not a bad idea, but it might be possible to do that just by having a clock there so players can see the time they’re taking without a rule about it. Make pitchers and batters read a monthly report on the time they’re taking between pitches. In the minor leagues give modest bonuses to fast workers.

    I’m with the automatic intentional walk. If pitchers want to try to pitch carefully “around” a batter, fine. But in any case where the catcher would normally stand up and call for a wide pitch, let it be an automatic walk.

    Why not cut commercial breaks by 30 seconds every half-inning? That’s at least 8.5 minutes right there. Would MLB lose that much revenue considering scarcer commercials would fetch higher prices? And (in the long run) considering more kids could stay up through the ninth inning?

    Why not put an 11-man — or even a 10-man — limit on the pitching staff, to effectively cap pitching changes? The players union might bark, but there would still be 25 of their members on the roster. And the league could loosen the rules to allow relief pitchers to shuttle more freely between AAA and MLB, or even hang out in limbo between levels — which could effectively expand the MLB roster without relieving the creative tension in the manager’s limited resources
    (“No pitcher can start a game without having been designated a starter for at least four previous days, except in case of injury. No more than five starters and four relievers may be on the active roster for a particular game, although three more relievers can be held on a reserved list eligible to be activated before the next game.” Something like that — it’s just a brainstorm at this point.)

  14. Dark Side of the Mood says:

    I wouldn’t mind seeing them outlaw shifts. Every other sport has peculiarities (offenses must have seven men on the line of scrimmage) that don’t affect how I enjoy the games. That said, I would hate to see a clock in baseball. Get ’em in the box and make them stay there. I can’t stand all the stepping out, the re-velcroing of the gloves, etc. Ugh. Grip it and rip it.

  15. Tom DeGisi says:

    So right. No clocks! No weird defense rules!

    Maybe try a total limit on warm up pitches for replacement pitchers. Make it relatively low, perhaps zero. Substitute quarterbacks don’t get practice throws on the field (etc, etc). If you want to pitch six different pitchers in a game as a matter of course for particular batters, fine. They better be warmed up when you change them, or change between innings. That’ll speed things up – and maybe boost offense a little.

    As far as offense, maybe lower the mound. It could even go up and down automatically depending on the previous year’s offensive output.

  16. Tom says:

    No automatic intentional walk — after watching on of the Nats pitchers bounce one into the backstop during the playoffs, I think it needs to remain. I’m all for the umpires not allowing a batter to step out of the box (or rather, calling the pitch if the batter does step out and time isn’t granted). No clock. Keep the shifts; hitters will adjust.

  17. andrew says:

    I’m in New York, its snowing and expected to get worse, right now I would take a baseball game in any way, shape or form. They went from a “dead” ball to a live ball, lowered the mound to create more runs, the umpires can speed things up, just, please, NO CLOCK

  18. Everybody needs to google “Robbie Cano bunt double”

    Carlos Pena, not exactly a high BA hitter late in his career, had 8 bunt singles with the Cubs in 2011.

    But I read that in 2013 there were only 50 bunt attempts against a shift in all of MLB.

    If I was managing a pull hitter at High-A, that guy is going to practice bunting every single day, and try to lay down a bunt against the shift at least once a series.

    • If I can teach every player on a youth team to lay down an acceptable bunt in a total of 30 minutes over a week, any pro player should be able to learn how to put down a hard, bad bunt… which is all that’s needed to get a hit against most shifts. You don’t need to spend much time on it. I estimate that about 5 bunts during the season will cause the shift to adjust. Probably before you get to May. They all have tons of video. You don’t think a few bunts would change the fielding strategy? At minimum, the 3rd baseman would be forced into a normal position, leaving a huge hole on the left side. Today’s shifts, with the 3rd baseman more in the SS position, completely take away 3/4 of the field. That would go away after a few bunts. Only 1/2 the field (where the ball is likely to be hit) would be covered. Also, if a team actually gets runners on base (what a concept) that already makes shifts far more difficult to implement.

  19. Marc says:

    A few thoughts:

    1. Bill James once mentioned (I believe in his Historical Abstract) that baseball DID have a clock – it was called sunset, and the umpires used to push the players to finish the game before they ran out of light. Once night games became the norm, everyone began to forget the importance of quickly moving through the game.
    2. recently evaluated the effect defensive shifts are having on batting average, and their point was that it’s negligible. The true culprit is the increase in strikeouts.
    3. The strike zone article (NY Times, 10/23/14) did a very good job in showing how bad QuesTec has been for the game.

    So…Commissioner Manfred: bring back the old strike zone, and forget the clock – just get umpires to push the game along as per the rules. Leave shifts alone!

    • Karyn says:

      Minor quibble: Grantland looked at the effect of the shift on BABIP, not on batting average.

      • Jovins says:

        All the shift can actually impact is balls in play. Homers are still homers, strikeouts are still strikeouts.

        If you look at overall average, you’re going to get remnants of the rising strikeout rates lowering the batting average.

  20. Bill says:

    The clock is not a good idea. As you say we would all be watching it, and that is not baseball. Pitching changes should be limited. One per inning in the first 5, two per inning in 6-9. We got by for a hundred years on less than that, but the modern day “bring in a lefty, then a righty, then another lefty” inning in a 4 run game is just brutal. Eliminating the DH would also shorten games, but good luck with that.

  21. Brad says:

    A couple of essays ago Joe wrote about why he didn’t love football, just that he liked it. I never thought about the play clock, but it makes me anxious too. Will my team get the play off in time? Nooooo! Will they penalize the Pats for not getting it off in time? Noooo! Too much added stress.
    I like Horatio’s idea of trimming between inning advertisements. The tv timeout is one of the things sucking joy from football games. Go two minutes, tops, between baseball innings. I like giving the ump more authority to speed up the at bat. Batting gloves don’t need to be adjusted after every pitch. Limit nut scratching to one time each at bat.
    Banning the shift is just a horrible idea. If Manfred wants to start his career with some Seligesque stink on him, this is a good way to do it.
    Fact is most of today’s hitters suck. They take way too many pitches, they don’t know the strike zone and most refuse to bunt against the shift. I spent most of last summer watching Mike Moustakas channel his inner Ted Williams, pounding ball after ball to the right side. It was like a bad reality show: will the kid get smart and bunt to the left side??
    Nope, not this time. I’ll tune in this summer to see if he learned anything in winter ball. My expectations are low.
    If the shift is banned, what’s next? Some imaginary line between 2nd and short that prevents a great shortstop from making plays on the second base side of the bag? Manfred needs to go back to the drawing board for better ideas.

  22. arjun says:

    can’t we just talk about improvements instead of instantly any change bad? yes baseball has its history and quirks. same thing happened when we had teams introducing analytic’s. the old school basically forced them out of jobs or reduced them. billy beane was reduced to my shit doesn’t work in the playoffs, depodesta was villified.

    sure enforce the warnings to pitchers, refuse to grant time outs.

    any claims to history are moot when you play 162 games and decide the winner on a 1 game playoff that leads to a 5 game then couple 7 game series. so many wild card teams have won the series they just had a hot streak. a 60 win team could have a 7 game streak that they win everything. it loses noise in that 162 game season.

  23. A Luddite says:

    I find it amusing that 100 years ago people had plenty of time to sit at a ballgame for 3 hours. Now, with all of our fancy, time-saving technology, people are just too busy to sit at a ballgame for 3:15.

    People are so “busy” nowadays that they can’t stop and smell the roses.

    • Ed says:

      It’s incredibly unlikely that someone was at a baseball game for 3 hours 100 years ago. The average length of a game in 1950 was only 2:20; in 2014 the average length of a game was 3:09.

      Games probably didn’t last much longer than 2 hours 100 years ago… there’s a significant difference between going to a 2 hour baseball game and going to a 3:15 baseball game.

      Basically, the point you were trying to make doesn’t actually exist.

      • Well, there was a game in 1920, almost 100 years ago, that lasted 3 hours 50 minutes.

        Then again, that game lasted a still-record 26 innings. So, yeah, unless the game went WAY into extra innings, you weren’t going to be there for 3 hours in those days.

  24. Jim says:

    The most enjoyable baseball I watched last summer was in the Carlina League. Batters stepped in the box an pitchers delivered the ball. The pace – and watchability – was tremendous.

    We have an annual national amateur tounament in Wichita, the NBC World Series, which uses a pitch clock. After a while, you don’t even notice it…except for the pace of the game!

  25. Tom Bell says:

    There’s an easier way to limit pitching changes, a splendid goal that would shorten games, eliminate dead times during games, and bring roster construction back to historical norms. And it doesn’t require a new rule, just a change to an existing rule.

    Currently pitchers are obligated to pitch to one batter. Change that to three batters and you’re all set.

    Well, add a tweak that if a pitcher gets hurt and must be pulled before facing his three batters, then he must be ineligible for the next three games – without the team being able to replace him. That should be enough to prevent abuse of the tweaked rule I propose.

    • Chris H. says:

      I think this is the simplest change and would make a tremendous difference, without doing violence to the spirit of the game. I would add “unless the change is made between innings” since it’s probably advantageous to encourage pitching changes at that time rather than mid-inning.

      It’s hard to know what the impact to the game would be, but it seems to me it would make managing more complex. The timing of pitching changes, as well as the way a lineup is structured, would become more difficult and more important. That’s all to the good.

    • Dark Side of the Mood says:

      Death of a LOOGY. Brilliant idea. Combine this w/some kind of enforceable “get in the box and stay in the box” rule and we could probably shave 20 minutes off a game in the first year.

  26. Lois Fundis says:

    When I think “clock in baseball” I think of the giant square Longines clock in the outfield in Forbes Field in the 1960s. Didn’t do anything except tell you what time it was. That’s the only kind of clock you need in baseball — if even that. But what do I know about baseball? I’ve only been watching it for 55 years.

    • The clock would need to be more like the basketball shot clock. It would need to be located near/at the backstop so the pitcher could see it well. There would need to be some version of it in the outfield for the umpire to view as well, and/or possibly an audible sound to indicate that the clock has expired.

  27. tangotiger says:

    My takeaway in reading these comments, and elsewhere: Don’t touch the MLB rulebook. Treat the rulebook as if it was offered at the Temple Mount.

    Is there ANY new rule that you’d get a two-thirds majority to agree?

    • “Your process/system is designed to create the results you are getting”. That’s my favorite quote. It says, in short, that if you want faster games, you actually have to change something. Using the same system & merely suggesting or hoping that something will change, is foolish. So yes, a rule change will be required if we want shorter games. People are change averse, but I think baseball seems to attract the most change averse fans on the planet. Why? Because they almost never change. That’s attractive to some people. The NFL is obviously the opposite. They make changes almost every year to make the game more entertaining. Sometimes they screw up, i.e. the “tuck rule”. But, even then, they’re not afraid to kill a bad rule really quick.

  28. dshorwich says:

    Making intentional walks automatic would have little overall effect on pace of play – teams averaged 33 IBB last year, with a high of 51. So once or twice a week a team would save, what, about a minute? That’s a mere drop in the bucket.

  29. Frank Marx says:

    Any restriction on “defensive shifting” is anathema to the game. How an apparently bright man like the new “commish,” a self-avowed baseball fan, could even consider such a thing is puzzling. This is an idea that has to go away in a hurry before it gains momentum

    • It won’t actually happen. He’s just letting everyone know that he’s on the pace of game issue. He’s throwing out thoughts as trial balloons. They’ll do something, but it will likely be watered down. I will say though, since they are actually piloting the pitch clock in the minors, that could actually happen. You don’t go through the trouble of testing something out if you’re not strongly considering implementing it. I don’t think the clock running down will be the issue. The issue is how much time a 20 second clock will actually save. Will it cause pitchers to speed up? Or, will they merely wait the full 20 seconds before throwing? Will the batters ability to step out of the box hinder any potential gains? There will likely be modifications to the idea before it’s ever implemented.

  30. Frank Marx says:

    An additional thought on my previous post: Are we going to start drawing lines all over the beautiful green baseball field to make it look like a basketball court?!

  31. Chris H says:

    Efforts to speed up the game have tended to focus on the pitcher, but I assume any clock won’t start until the batter takes his place in the box. So it won’t solve the problem of hitters fiddling with equipment, taking practice swings, allowing their walk-up music to play, holding their front hand up while digging out the batter’s box, and everything else.

    I don’t want to make things unsafe, and obviously if a hitter fouls a ball off his foot he should get time to recover. But otherwise, how about a rule that says “once a batter has begun his at-bat, the pitcher may pitch when ready”? Yes, quick-pitching might result. Isn’t that the goal?

  32. tombando says:

    Needs to be this huge Oscar Gamble clock with the hands glowing in his afro. And every time the batter steps out, Oscar pops up. Every time the pitcher steps off the rubber, Oscar grounds out. And when there’s a grand slam, Oscar gets overpaid by the Padres.

  33. Dan W. says:

    I believe shock collars on the necks of pitchers and batters should provide the necessary motivation. That won’t fly but what about rewarding players that finish a game in less than 3 hours with a $5,000 game bonus? Do that 100 times a season and that is real money!

    I do believe one of the big issues is the increase in pitches per at bat. Batters are more patient. They are willing to risk a strikeout for the reward of a base on balls or getting the perfect pitch to hit. The more pitches per at bat, the long each at bat takes and the longer the game. The only remedy I see is to decrease the time between pitches.

  34. I’m totally in favor of the clocks and requiring batters to stay in the batters box. In a youth tournament once, the umpire did not let the kids step out of the box. He even called a strike, or two, when the pitcher threw the ball over the plate with no kid in the box. Guess what? By the second inning, everyone adjusted. The game moved quicker & it was all good. The clock takes care of the other end of the equation. I’d actually be in favor of a 15 second clock over a 20 second clock. Catch ball, step on mound, look for sign, throw the ball. It’s not a complicated process. But, bottom line, there are what? About 250-300 pitches in an average game? If you cut down the dead time by an average of 5 seconds per pitch, that would shorten the game by 20-25 minutes. Yes, do the math. It really would. Wouldn’t that be a considerable improvement?

    As for shifts, I agree with Poz. There are easy remedies for shifts. Bunt or hit the other way. The bunt required to get a hit would be laughably easy to learn. If a major league hitter can’t, or is unwilling to do these things, that’s their problem. I saw Brian McCann do this one time. Hard bunt towards the shortstop position. Easy hit, even with the incredibly slow McCann. If he would have done that 3-4 times, you don’t think the shift would have to be adjusted? Amazingly, I never saw him do it again. Change is hard for people. I have no idea why someone wouldn’t take an easy single every time. Talk about an OBP booster! Back in the day, if a 3rd baseman played back, Steve Garvey would bunt every time. He got a lot of hits that way. Guess what? After a while, the 3rd baseman played in front of the bag against him every time. Every time. That created a nice hole between 3rd and SS that he exploited often.

  35. MCD says:

    I recognize that baseball has fallen out of favor and no longer the “national pastime” and that MLB has to consider changes on “improving” the game and the fan experience. I also admit I am not in the target demographic to whom the changes are supposed to appeal, partly because I am the north-side of 40, but also because I *already* love baseball. Realizing all this, I do my best not to dismiss change out of hand.

    However, I don’t get all the hate regarding the shift. This isn’t like when basketball realized it had to make goal-tending illegal because by allowing it altered the game so dramatically.

    I understand the theory: bigger offense = more excitement = more fans. I don’t think the risk/reward is there. Severely altering some basis tenants of the game in exchange for a handful of additional grounders making it thru the infield. I don’t think “more ground ball hits” is exactly a kind of thing that the new commissioner can make a pillar of his campaign to pull in the casual fan.

    • Karyn says:

      Some of the objections to the shift are aesthetic. Some folks just don’t like the way it looks, having three or even four infielders on one side of the diamond. Some even think it makes a travesty of the game (I have seen this said in a comment section), that it’s kind of like Belichick screwing about with which players were eligible and ineligible receivers a couple weeks ago–pushing the intent of the rules to obtain an advantage.

      I don’t believe any of these things; I don’t mind the shift either. But this is what I’ve seen around recently.

  36. Karyn says:

    Leave the shift alone; as others have said, hitters will adjust and bunt or hit opposite field. Defenses will then fade back to more moderate shifts; the problem will solve itself. And as Grantland found recently, it’s not even that much of a problem.

    If, when Joe says ‘clock’, he means a set of countdown timers around the park so that pitchers, umpires, and fans can see them and one can be shown on the TV screen, just like the play clock in football and the shot clock in basketball, I agree. We don’t need it.

    But pace of play is an issue. It’s pretty easily resolved, though, with the rules already in the book. Rule 8.04 and Rule 6.02 cover the issue nicely, I think. Twelve seconds from the time the pitcher receives the ball until he pitches; otherwise it’s a ball (this only applies when there are no runners on base). Batters need not be granted time out and allowed to leave the batter’s box between each pitch.

    You can tweak these and other rules as well, to speed things up even more. Twelve seconds to either deliver the pitch or throw to a base to hold a runner. A conference with any other player counts just as though a coach or manager was present (one per half-inning, or the pitcher is relieved). Only two warm-up pitches allowed when a reliever comes in.

    Try these out in Fall Leagues. Try them out in spring training. Players will adjust, but here’s the thing: the leagues must be willing to back the umpires 100%. If managers and GMs and owners call up the league offices crying about how the rules were called on them and the league offices back down, the umps are hung out to dry.

  37. John Kuzma says:

    One of things I’ve learned in life is that if you want to make a positive change to a process or system, you had better have a deep understanding of that process or system.

  38. Tampa Mike says:

    I HATE the idea of a pitch clock. It goes against much of what makes the game great. Part of the battle is the pitcher and hitter messing with each others timing. I would much rather they limit pitching changes, time between innings, mound visits, etc. A game is much more effected by a manager going though 4 or 5 pitchers in an innings than what a pitch clock would do.

    I’m all for defensive shifts. Batters should just bunt and go around it. To me the shift is stupid because it is so easily defeated, but let ’em do it.

  39. Steve says:

    Joe, there is one sport that didn’t have a clock that was improved when clocks were introduced.
    That sport is curling.
    Before the curling clock, games used to last forever (ie 4+hours). It was torture. Then curling put in a clock for each team (like chess). Team A’s clock started running when it was their turn to throw a rock. When the rock stopped, Team A’s clock stopped and Team B’s clock started.
    In the beginning each team was given 75 minutes, working out to 2.5 hours of ‘action’ (and I use that term loosely. Add 30 minutes of commercials, and you get 3 hours.
    The penalty for a team going over 75 minutes? LOSS OF GAME.
    I think a clock of 75 minutes per team could work as well as the curling clocks have worked. If a pitcher change during the innin happens, the clock runs. If Team A’s batter steps out of the box, Team B’s clock stops, and Team A’s clock starts until he’s back in the box.

  40. wordyduke says:

    I like this a lot. I would ask you to expand some time on the ‘If hitters would stop striking out at historic rates” part.

    Compared to the game I grew up loving, today’s baseball has (for me) too many strikeouts, too many home runs, too few doubles and triples and plays at the bases.

  41. Carl says:

    1 Limit (1 per inning) catchers visiting the mound. Posada and Veritek used to be worth at least 10 minutes per game in the Sox-yanks games just from trotting to and fro the mound.

    2) Limit pitching changes to no more than 2 per inning. How annoying is it to, towards the end of the game, have the starter start an inning, a reliever come in, followed by a Loogie, followed by another reliever. 4 pitchers (all w the slow walk to the mound, etc. make the game less than boring, it makes it ANNOYING.

  42. I’m surprised a writer of Posnanski’s intellligence uses the “baseball has no clock” argument. That’s talking about a GAME clock, not a pitch clock. Baseball has had a rule about time between pitches for years, it just hasn’t been enforced.

  43. John says:

    Aside from speeding up the pace of the game (and I am in broad agreement with Joe on that count), something that would make the game more interesting is to get the ball in play for more at bats. Doubles, running catches in the OF, and tricky hard-hit grounders are more interesting than strikeouts and walks. More Vlad Guerrero and less Adam Dunn. A couple ideas for that (and I haven’t thought this all through, so these are kind of preliminary): bigger strike zone (fewer walks), lower mound (pitches easier to hit), significantly larger OFs (harder to hit a HR).

    • Oldfoagie says:

      Play every game at Coors for that kind of offense. Otherwise bring in the fences 50ft at Dodger Stadium/ Petco/ ATT Or whoever is sponsoring this week in SF.

    • Zach says:

      I agree. As a baseball fan, I’ve spoken with non-baseball fans (but the type of sports-aware audience the NFL manages to attract) who feel that anything other than a ball in play means nothing is happening. Roughly 20% of all pitches result in a ball being hit in play. I appreciate Adam Dunn working a 2-2 count before driving a ball into the gap, but a casual viewer just witnessed 4 nothings and then a base hit.
      An extreme method would be to shorten the count; maybe start every at-bat at 2-1. Pitchers would throw less balls if they have fewer to work with, and batters would be looking for pitches to hit over the plate. This would definitely result in more pitches hit.
      Baseball-Reference states that in 2014, PAs reaching a count of 2-1 resulted in batting numbers of .250/.382/.394. That’s really not too far off from where we are now (although the walks are high). You might get more walks, but the walks would take less time to work themselves out.

  44. Jay says:

    I’m pretty sure MLB will find a way to shorten the time between pitches, with or without a clock.

    I was watching some MLB games on TV in Mexico City recently, with the play-by-play in Spanish, which I don’t really speak or understand. It was unwatchable with there being no distractions between pitches.

    • Karyn says:

      My Pop always says that baseball on TV can be boring, but that at the ballpark, you just can’t keep up with everything that’s going on.

      Pop’s an old guy.

  45. Bpdelia says:

    I’m going to solve this problem.

    Relief pitchers get no on field warm up pitches.

    Must importantly any pitcher who enters a have must face at least 3 batters.

    This will must likely eliminate the lefty and right specialist roles and speed up the game.

    Finally pick off attempts are allowed only 3 times an inning.

    This adds a fun strategic angle to pick off attempts.
    It will increase stolen base attempts and success.

    All of these changes speed the game and result in more offense.

    They eliminate 3 things that annoy the casual fan (and non casual fans like me at least) and do it absolutely transparently do that no one actually notices a change. It takes away rather than adds.

    I could be convinced on shifting as it is frustrating to watch power hitters marginalized like this but really it’s not a massive problem.

  46. Kevin says:

    Is the pace of the game more of an issue for those at the park or those watching on TV? I’m pretty sure we all know the answer to that question. Simply, the umpires need to enforce the rules already on the books.

    My only change might be to limit the number of pitching changes per inning. 3-4 pitchers in one half inning is ridiculous. Allow 2 max per half inning (except for injury reasons) and penalize each additional one with a intentional walk. Relief pitchers only get 3 warmup pitches once on the mound.

    As for the shift ban, that’s idiotic. Managers should be able to align their 7 defensive field players in any manner they wish. Don’t hit into it. Geez…

  47. Jeff says:

    For the most part, I agree with the majority that both of these things will work themselves out, especially the shift. Players will eventually decide to hit against the shift.

    I’m not sure that limiting pitching changes will necessarily improve the pace of play issue, per se. But I do have some ideas that I like that have been mentioned previously.

    First, relievers entering a game need at least a few warmups to adjust to the game mound. Bullpen mounds are not maintained like the infield mound and every mound is different, especially after other pitchers have been on it for a few innings. Let’s say we reduce the warmups from eight to five, maybe four.

    Second, limit the active roster for each game to nine pitchers. Your starter and an eight man bullpen should be plenty. The starter on his “throw day” can be your emergency long man. The other starters are “healthy scratches” just like in hockey. The administrative rules would not have to be altered as someone suggested because you’d still have twelve pitchers on the roster. MLPBA should agree since this adds three more position players to major league rosters.

    Finally, hitters have become more patient over the last decade because they’ve learned pitchers are throwing fewer strikes. I suspect this is due to the ever-shrinking strike zones being caused. A bigger strike zone means hitters will have to swing to protect a larger area resulting in more balls in play. I think this may actually reduce strikeouts as hitters will see more pitches within the zone and may swing earlier in the count.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong and none of this would work. I do believe that the key is getting pitchers to quit nibbling and throw strikes. Of course, that also means that pitch over the plate at the belt needs to be a strike, Mr. Umpire.

  48. Ed says:

    I think this is one of soccer’s big advantages, especially when it comes to garnering increased interest in the United States. A soccer match is going to be right around 2 hours every single time. If you go to the match, or you watch it on TV, you know it’s going to top out at 2 hours (with the exception of cup matches that may have extra time and eventually PKs, but those are relatively rare compared to league matches). You don’t have to worry about not knowing how long you’ll actually be there/watching on TV — which is a problem for baseball, basketball, and football. Baseball is the worst because of no clock, but basketball games can be stretched out significantly based on fouls (especially at the end of games), and football games can also sometimes 30+ minutes longer than you’d expect.

    A soccer match is 90 (real time, with the clock never stopping) minutes, plus 15 minutes for halftime. There’s a possible fluctuation of up to 10 minutes for stoppage time added at the end of each half, but it’s usually not even that much. And then it’s over. It’s essentially impossible for a standard league to match to last longer than 2 hours, or much shorter than 2 hours, so you know what you’re in for at the start.

    • mark says:

      This is why I just bought season tickets to a new local MLS team and haven’t watched a complete baseball game in 4-5 years.
      I’m slightly older than Joe and remember when baseball was the world.

  49. Richard says:

    Put a cap on the number of pitchers a team can have on the roster. Fewer pitchers available means fewer pitching changes….

    • Frank Marx says:

      Another good idea possibly, but not likely to pass union muster. Remember, most of the ideas expressed here (fewer pitchers, fewer warm-up pitches, fewer pitching changes, reducing specialist relievers, requiring a certain number of batters to be faced, etc.) would require union approval. It could be argued that all of these options would be detrimental to its members and thus opposed by the union.

      If MLB would instruct and strongly back its own employees (the umpires) in enforcing existing rules, the union would be less an obstacle. Certainly you would want to announce in advance that the umpires have been empowered to hasten the pace, as per the rules, and begin enforcing the rules in Spring Training, so umpires, players and fans can become comfortable with the “experiment.” It may or may not work, but it doesn’t materially affect the nature of the game. If it works, great. If not, try something else, but it seems like a simple first step.

  50. chlsmith says:

    I’ve been watching another game on TV recently: cricket. Millions of people around the world love it, and those games last forever. I had it on for 1 1/2 hours the other day before the batting sides changed. (I think there’s a term for that…haven’t figured it out yet.) Point is, pace of play does not kill the viewership of a game.

    Limit the length of commercial breaks during the game. If a batter is going to be intentionally walked, don’t require the 4 throws to the plate. Limit pitching changes to 2 per 9 batters, allowing another change if the batters go through the order within the inning. Keep the batters in the box. Simple stuff….don’t ruin the best way to spend a summer day with a couple beers and some friends.

  51. Michael says:

    Any change that risks a pitcher’s health (minimum batters faced or pitching changes per game) makes me a bit nervous. They aren’t robots.

    That said, I do think there’s something about modern bullpen usage (from starters not going long to elite relievers not being deployed in high leverage situations) that is annoying almost all fans on some level.

  52. mateo says:

    The league should offer a big cash bonus to the umpires for every game under 2 1/4 hours. One season of that and the games will be quicker without any rule changes.

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