Faster Orioles games will be coming soon to a major league stadium near you. The first big initiative of Commissioner Rob Manfred's tenure has been put in place as the league and the players union have come to an agreement on a modest set of changes that are intended to eliminate some of the pointless downtime within the span of a single game.
The changes consist of three core ideas:
1. Managers will no longer leave the dugout to initiate an instant replay or stall for time while considering one.
2. Making sure that a batter keeps one foot in the batter's box more often.
3. Stricter enforcement of between-innings break times, with fines resulting for repeat offenders starting in May.
The question of how to speed up baseball games is something of a controversial one. Everyone has his or her own idea about what would be the best way to do it. Some people don't even think there should be anything done to try to speed up baseball games at all. Isn't more baseball a good thing, you might see them say. To which I would reply that baseball is good, but longer baseball games choked with delays for non-baseball reasons are not a good thing.
Why it's a good thing to speed up baseball games in one graphic:
Back in the 1950s, the average MLB game lasted 2 hours, 21 minutes. Since 2010, they've lasted an average of 3 hours pic.twitter.com/dE5GFTKGuI— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 20, 2015
The pace of play changes announced today aren't going to take us back to the days of baseball games played in less than two and a half hours. There are a variety of factors that have made the games take longer, some of which aren't going to be tackled by any pace of play committee now or in the future.
For instance, there likely were not inning breaks of nearly 2:30 back then, time in which to squeeze in commercials for the home audience and sponsored Jumbotron segments for those in the crowd. The Kiss Cam is here to stay, so don't sit too close to your sister.
Another thing that's not going to be impacted much is the amount that a mid-inning pitching change to bring in a LOOGY slows down a game, especially when that LOOGY fails at his task and is plucked from the game after allowing his batter to reach base. That's for another day, if at all.
What the new rules will do is make sure that between-innings time doesn't go beyond where it's supposed to. Presently, there's supposed to be 2:25 between half-innings. Let's just suppose that those breaks have been stretching out to 3:00. If that's the case, just keeping it to 2:25 cuts off 30 seconds for each inning break. That will add up within a game and certainly across the whole season. It'll add up a bit less in ESPN games; any nationally-televised game is allowed 2:45 between innings.
Rules for managers challenging instant replay will not even affect every game played, but it's something that will make a difference. The shuffle out from the dugout and back for a play that may not even result in the manager using a replay challenge got old pretty quick. This way, though the game may still be delayed somewhat by non-challenges, the trip back to the dugout will not hold up a game.
As far as the business about keeping one foot in the batter's box, well, it sounds nice on paper. However, realistically, there are so many exceptions to it that we're probably not cutting out much of the nonsensical step out/batting glove adjustment gamesmanship. A list of exceptions that allow a batter to leave the box between pitches:
- The batter swings at a pitch
- The batter is forced out of the box by a pitch
- A player on either team is granted time
- A defender attempts a play on a baserunner
- The batter feints a bunt
- There is a wild pitch or passed ball
- The pitcher leaves the mound after receiving the ball
- The catcher leaves the box to give signals
That is a lot of exceptions. Unless it's a called ball or called strike, you can probably still take a walk as long as you want without any penalty. Still, it's a step in the right direction. If this is successful as an incremental change, then maybe if there's another pass in the future it can be tightening up the exceptions, such as umpires being less likely to grant time to a player on either team.
There are those for whom pitch clocks are a magical solution to deal with pitchers who seem to see their role in a given game as being, effectively, constipation. This includes that greasy sack of unshowered flesh and hair, Clay Buchholz. The league experimented with pitch clocks in the Arizona Fall League last year. Maybe it would help, but something just seems wrong about bringing clocks into baseball. That's for inferior sports who serve little use other than to pass the time until it's baseball season.
As with all things, there will be consequences both intended and unintended as these rules are implemented. Coming up with an idea in a committee is one thing. Seeing it through is another. It's hard to find fault with the aims, and if they are successful in cutting a couple of minutes of nonsense out of the average baseball game, everybody wins.