This week, at the quarterly owners’ meetings in Houston, commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters MLB is considering several changes to the game. Among those are adding a pitch clock, and changing the way infield shifts and relievers are used. Owners were given a presentation on these matters during the week.
“The point of the conversation today was that the game has changed dramatically. It’s changed organically. It kind of has flowed where the competitive juices of managerial and general managerial decisions have taken it,” said Manfred to Ronald Blum. “And the question is, you take a snapshot after 40 years of that and you say, ‘wow, here’s what it looks like, here’s what it used to look like and should we be thinking about what has occurred and whether we want to allow it to continue to go on on the path it’s on?'”
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires December 1st and Manfred said MLB and the MLBPA are making progress on a new deal. It’s important to note MLB can not unilaterally make rule changes. The players’ union has to approve everything. I have some quick thoughts on these changes that are being considered.
1. Pitch clocks will probably be fine. MLB is clearly very focused on improving the pace of play, and you know what? I don’t blame them. There’s a lot of downtime within games. Visits to the mound, standing around shaking off signs, that sort of thing. I don’t see a problem with trying to eliminate some of that downtime. Attention spans are too short nowadays to have that much standing around.
There have been pitch clocks at Double-A and Triple-A since last year — the pitcher has 20 seconds to make each pitch, and if he doesn’t, a ball is called — and for the most part they’ve gone unnoticed. You get used to them in no time. As long as the clock isn’t directly behind home plate and in the viewing area on television, I don’t think we’d even notice they’re there. Maybe there’s a compromise to be made. Pitch clocks with the bases empty but not with men on base?
2. Changing strategy is not a good precedent to set. The pitch clock stuff is fine. I do not like the talk about limiting the shift or reliever usage in some way though. Now we’re talking about changing the fundamental strategy of the game. Teams come up with a creative way to gain a competitive advantage, then bam, it gets taken away because some people don’t like it. That’s not a precedent you want to set. How’s the game supposed to evolve?
The shift very obviously works. To what extent, exactly? I’m not sure we know. I know the league average BABIP hasn’t changed much over the years, if at all, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. They’re talking about changing the game to help a very specific subset of players: lefty pull hitters. (Yes, some righties gets shifted too, but not nearly as many.) That doesn’t seem fair. If you’re going to rewrite the rulebook, I think it should be for something that has a much greater overall impact on the game.
Same thing with reliever usage. MLB wants to reduce the number of pitchers used per game — again, to cut down on downtime during pitching changes, etc. — and changing reliever usage could drastically alter the game. If, say, they force relievers to face at least two batters instead of one, suddenly left-on-left specialists are pretty much out of a job. This strikes me as something that could have unintended consequences. MLB is good at that.
There’s nothing wrong with MLB and the owners looking for ways to improve the game. That’s exactly what they should be doing. Like, all the time. The pitch clock to me is perfectly fine. It’s worked well in Double-A and Triple-A, so it’s been given a test run. Changing strategy, such as the shift and reliever usage, is a much bigger issue. Reducing creativity and progressiveness is bad for the game overall.