In the midst of baseball’s failure to appeal to younger fans, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has made a few minor changes to the game in order to alter this trend. Since he succeeded Bud Selig in 2015, he has focused his attention on two main agendas: promoting youth baseball and speeding up baseball’s pace of play. In addition to his original amendments to the game, which included one rule that forced the hitter to remain in the batter’s box between pitches, and another that instituted a clock between innings to limit commercials, he has recently recommended more drastic changes. Here are his major proposals (an attempt to instill a faster pace and more offense into the game) and the potential effect they could have:
Pitch Clocks: I will be the first to admit that it can get pretty boring watching pitchers like Masahiro Tanaka (or Josh Beckett back in the day) take forever to throw the ball with runners on base. In attempt to curb how much time pitchers take between deliveries, Manfred and his staff has suggested adding a 20 second pitch clock, the penalty for which (although he has not been specific) I assume would be awarding a ball to the batter. Although there seems to be plenty of outcry over this particular proposal, it would seem to be a rather effective way of speeding up the game. I understand that baseball’s “claim to fame” is that it is a game out of time, or in other words, that it does not start and end with a clock. But, the institution of pitch clocks would not necessarily change the essence of the game. Rather, it would create a solid, speedy pace to innings and at-bats, restricting the pitcher’s ability to be so deliberate, and thus allowing fans to maintain interest in each pitch.
Eliminating Defensive Shifts: Clearly, the purpose of this proposal would be to inject more offense into the game, allowing for more hits and thus, more excitement. This debate, however, seems very similar to the Hack-a-Player rule the NBA is currently dealing with. Although watching players like Brian McCann or Mark Teixeira constantly chop balls directly into the shift tends to become frustrating, I believe that they are not all that difficult to beat. Just like a player who is good enough to play in the NBA should be able to sink a free throw, MLB players should be able to learn to hit the ball the opposite way. If every victim of a defensive shift learned how to hit ground balls to the opposite field, Manfred and company would not need a rule to eliminate them. Plus, as my fellow writer Jeb Clarke discovered during his research, shifts have not necessarily decreased run production since they have become popular (https://checkdownsports.net/2016/06/16/who-shifts/).
Diminishing the Strike Zone: Another attempt to prime more offense into baseball games, this idea seems great on paper, given that there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of low strikes called over recent years. As a result, Manfred has suggested that the strike zone be raised a bit in order to eliminate these sub-knee strike calls (which, as a college baseball player, I can attest to how difficult it is to hit them). In its potential success to create offense, however, it would almost certainly slow pace of play. While strikeouts that come as a byproduct of the current strike zone are not necessarily fun to watch, the walks that such a rule change would create may be even less exciting. I understand the reasons behind this proposal; however, I am not sure it would produce the intended result.
Limiting the use of Bullpen Pitchers: This is plain ridiculous. I understand the need for more excitement in the game of baseball, but such a rule change would be horrible for two main reasons.
While it is certainly difficult to score runs off some of the leagues dominant bullpen hurlers, what is unexciting about watching Aroldis Chapman throw 105mph fastball or Jeurys Familia throw a 95mph splitter? What is not interesting about a Dellin Betances knuckle curve or an Andrew Miller slider?
I also have a problem with the core purpose of this proposal. By suggesting such an alteration, Manfred is basically conceding that bullpens have become too dominant and thus, he wants to limit how much they are used. It would seem to me, however, that this is like telling Stephen Curry he can only shoot a certain number of threes per game, or placing a cap on the number of passes Tom Brady can throw. In this sense, Manfred is attempting to punish players for becoming too good.
I certainly respect and admire Rob Manfred for his willingness to change, unlike his predecessors, in order to appeal to younger fans, but he needs to be more careful about these proposals. While some may work well, others may create undesirable side effects, and others still might change the very essence of baseball.