Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Start the Clock

Major League Baseball has taken steps to speed up games. But they’re tiny rather insignificant steps. Limiting number of mound visits to six and shaving a few seconds off of commercial breaks. Maybe 4 hour games will be 6 minutes shorter.

The problem is the Players Union. Players, by and large, are creatures of habit. They don’t want to change things, they don’t want to be inconvenienced . So any real measures to speed up the game are blocked.

But you want faster baseball games? Simple. Pick up the damn pace. How do you do that?

Well, first of all, umpires need to call strikes as designated in the rule book. They don’t. They just call the bottom half of the strike zone strikes. If they called more strikes batters wouldn’t take a thousand borderline pitches. They’d swing more. Each at bat would be more like a minute and a half and not five. Multiply that over sixty or seventy at bats a game.

Batters must stay in the batter’s box. No hopping out after every pitch to adjust your batting gloves or go through idiotic rituals. Get in, hit, get out.

No more walk-up music. Players wait the 30 or 40 seconds while their stupid intro music plays. It’s nonsense. Joe DiMaggio didn’t need to hear “Mrs. Robinson” before he could hit.

Limit the number of throws to first base. The runner gets too big a lead? Pitch out.

Institute a time limit between pitches. You don’t have to be exact to the second but there are some pitchers who take forever. Cut that shit out.

Finally, and I know this will never happen, limit the number of pitchers on your roster. Cut down on the number of relief pitchers you have available. Do that and you won’t have ten pitching changes every game. Do that and you won’t have four pitchers in one inning from time to time. Every time there’s a pitching change it’s another four minutes. You’re not destroying the fabric of the game by limiting the number of relief pitchers available. For a hundred years starters either pitched complete games or got late into games and one or two relievers would finish up. Now each side uses six or seven pitchers a game.

Dodger games in Los Angeles in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and into the ‘70s used to start at 8:00 pm not 7:00 pm. And the games STILL ended sooner than they do now. That’s ridiculous. But like I said, nothing is going to really change. God forbid a third-string catcher steps up to the plate without hearing his signature song.


Unknown said...

I agree that pitching changes and mound visits have gotten out of control and add to the length of a game but I’m not sure that any of the various proposals, including a pitch clock, will make all that much of a difference. They seem to believe that the length of the game is why baseball is dropping in popularity with young people but do you really think cutting 15 minutes, even 30 minutes out of a game will do much to attract the attention of folks that can’t go 3 minutes without looking at their phones? Football games last 3 hours or more, especially now that they review every third play these days, but that doesn’t seem to have dimmed its popularity with younger folks.

Baseball is a nineteenth century game that doesn’t lend itself well to today’s need for constant stimulation to maintain the interest of the audience - hence the walk up music and intra-inning distractions to try and keep people from tuning out. I think they’d be better served by finding ways to reduce the dominance of the pitching in games to increase scoring. The more action in a game the more you’ll keep people from seeking entertainment in their phones or on another channel. Ironically that would probably lead to longer games but with a higher entertainment value for the attention deficit generation.

Curt Alliaume said...

Tom Boswell, The 40 Fiats of Chairman Boz, 4/17/88:

"The home plate ump shall have a button. If a batter takes more than 30 seconds to adjust his uniform, tighten his batting glove, wiggle his toe, call for time and otherwise delay the game, the ump shall push the button. The button will open a trapdoor to a pit, full of reptiles, under the batter's box. This shall be known as the Rickey Henderson Hole, in honor of the potential Hall of Famer whose career was tragically cut short. Carlton Fisk and Cliff Johnson: Consider yourselves warned. The trapdoor will also work for home-run trots, but with bigger reptiles. Jeffrey Leonard gets a free trial."

Glenn said...

I'm with you on the pitching changes. Bringing in four or five pitchers in one inning is excruciating. And going to commercials every time makes it even worse. And maybe pitchers would last longer if they weren't throwing so many warm up pitches before each inning.

Elf said...

The biggest time suck has always been pitching changes. My rule change idea is that if you bring in a reliever he must pitch to at least two batters. This will get rid of the whole phenomenon of having pitchers who specialize in pitching only to a single batter. (AKA "LOOGY"-Lefty One Out GuY.) A major league pitcher should be able to pitch to guys on both sides of the plate.

I'd allow an exception in the case of injury of course. Also, if a pitcher comes in with two outs and gets his man, he can be replaced at the start of the next inning.

sean said...

I like the related headlines from yesterday's and today's articles. As a fellow Stern fan,may I suggest that you somehow find a way to make tomorrow's 'Whoa whoa whoa,Stop the clock." ;)

Bob K said...

Ken, glad to see you say what I’ve been saying for years! If the umps simply enforced the existing rules, especially regarding the strike zone and stepping out of the box, that would solve a ton on problems. Possible Friday Question, or question for your next baseball-related podcast guest: Why are pro baseball players, athletes at the top of their game, unable to hit against the shift? That drives me insane.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Hands waving in the air here, but would shorter games mean a decrease in beer, dogs, sushi and peanut sales at the stadiums? Is there possibly some pressure not to shorten the event?

Maybe length is desirable there, too.

Michael said...

As I recall, Gladys Goodding, the legendary Ebbets Field organist, had "walkup" music, but it was quick and so were the players.

Doug Harvey, the greatest umpire I ever saw, told the teams before his final game that he was going to call the rule book strike zone and they were done in about 1:45. The problem is that, historically, if the umpires do call it, the teams get upset and guess who gets chewed out and threatened from above? Not the teams, that's for sure.

Also, another thought: it's two minutes between innings for commercials. Imagine cutting back on THAT.

Mike Schryver said...

Actually they are cutting back on time between innings slightly, as Ken said.
What hasn't been mentioned is the thing that has added more time to games in the past few years than anything else - replay review.
Not just the plays that are actually challenged, but managers stopping the game for 30 seconds after each and every close play while someone in the back checks the video.
It would shorten games tremendously if managers were required to make their challenges immediately. All those 30 second delays would be gone and the most egregious bad calls would still be reversed, which was what the people hollering for replay really wanted.

I think there's a little too much focus on making the games shorter, though. The ball's in play for less time in an NFL game than in a baseball game, and that hasn't seemed to hurt the audience for football.

scottmc said...

With respect to relief pitchers, I would eliminate the warm up pitches the reliever throws upon entering the game. He comes in, batter up. I would also address the Replay Rule. If you can't decide safe/out within 30 seconds the call on the field stands.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Maybe if every tiny component of the game didn't have its own sponsor ("This replacement of a broken bat brought to you by Herkimer's Lumber Yard"), the players would pick up the pace. I really think they're told to move slowly so the announcers can read ad copy for each call to the bullpen/walk to the mound/visit by the trainer/argument with the umpire. And these challenges where they have to wait for somebody in New York to look at the video are deadly. The bad calls even out over the course of a season. Get on with it!

Y. Knott said...

Call the actual strike zone. Do not grant time outs to allow batters to step out of the box, except under extraordinary circumstances.

As those are already in the books (just not properly enforced) you don't have to make any changes to the rules, and the pace of the game suddenly increases by 20%.

Ralph C. said...

Ken, take a look at this article...

Jahn Ghalt said...

Ken Wrote:

umpires need to call strikes as designated in the rule book. They don’t. They just call the bottom half of the strike zone strikes.

In 1990 George Will wrote a good book about baseball called Men At Work. He mentioned how LaRussa's A's (or possibly Gwynn's Padres) would chart pictches - few above the belt were called strikes. My take for at least 15 years (when I started watching the Mariners) is that the high strike is called much more than that. A small degree of objectivity is offered with the various strike zone indicators in recent years.

(yes, of course, the top and bottom of those "zones" is subject to error by the broadcasters)

Those strike zone indicators show how some plate umps are often fooled by a pitch that starts on the plate, then tails outside, and misses the plate altogether - often by more than 2-3-inches. This is a among the more legitimate complaints that batters have regarding strike calls.

(BTW - will anyone care to comment here with the by-rule definition of the strike zone in MLB? what exactly is the "top of the zone"? Ken?)

Cut down on the number of relief pitchers you have available.

I might support limiting the number of pitching changes within the first nine innings, with extra pitchers allowed after nine. This would especially make sense after the roster expansion to 40 late in each season. Perhaps limit total pitching changes during innings - or disallow nine warmup tosses after the first inning - hold that to five (relievers should be warm BEFORE walking out).

Victor Velasco said...

The strike zone, or, actual? strike zone calls would be great. Of course, we wouldn't hear so much about trajectory and launch...yes!!

Five starters and six relievers can't do the job?...jeez Maybe 27 men? Probably won"t happen anytime soon

Bugdun said...

I like the idea of calling the actual strike zone, and getting the guys back into the batters box. Can't limit throws to first, though. Speedy Gonzalez screwing with the pitcher is a game within the game.

They will never reduce the number of pitchers a team can carry. MLB teams have millions wrapped up in those arms and they are not going to abuse them through perceived overuse. It's all about pitch-counts these days, and that is not going to change. Billy Martin could have gone through a full season with only four starters and a couple relievers, but you'll never see such abuse again.

Dana King said...

I'd be perfectly happy with just a few, to see how they work (or don't):
1. Batters must stay in the box and can only call timeout once per at bat. Umpires shall not call time for any additional requests unless there is a problem. (Ball fouled off foot, bug in eye, etc.)
2. Batter has 30 seconds from when "time" is called for the end of the prior at bat before he must be in the box. (Exception for last minute pinch hitters.)
3. Limited visits to the mound. I'm good with more than six, but a lot fewer than Yadier Molina would like.
4. A pitcher cannot be replaced during an inning if he retired the previous batter. No one multiple pitching changes just so each of them can get one guy out.

benson said...

Pretty much everyone agrees, call the strike zone. But why don't they? If it's the rule?
Seems like that doesn't have to be approved by the union. It's the rule, no? The commish says to the umpires, do your job.

Is Rob Manfred serious or not? Is he just talking a good game?

John in NE Ohio said...

Number one, call the strike zone.

Number two is long winded, kills two birds with one stone (unifying league rules) and will never happen.

Both leagues get the DH. MAYBE you add a couple players since the bench will get used more.
Every pitcher is tied to the DH if you choose to use it. So the starting pitcher and the starting DH are one person in the lineup. Change pitchers, DH done for the day. Next pitcher comes in, and they either have a different DH designated at the time they enter the game, or they are designated to bat for themselves. Put in a pinch runner or pinch hitter for your DH? Pitcher is done.
It may not help the one batter pitchers, because if the manager is only going to use them for one batter, he just designates that they hit for themselves since they will be out of the game anyway. But it will make the managers think longer about pulling the starting pitcher in the 5th inning, especially if you are the home team.
I think that overall you would remove 1 to 2 pitching changes per team per game. And like I said, the leagues would have the same rules.

Breadbaker said...

The Players Union is doing its job. Its job (it's only job) is to represent its players' interests, not the interests of the game (and you can be damn sure Rob Manfred, whether he talks like a "commissioner of baseball" or not, is solely representing the owners, and not the fans or "the game"; look what happened when Fay Vincent tried to do that).

Like it or not, all those little things, the adjustment of the batting gloves, the use of one out specialists, increase the effectiveness of players and thus the amount they will get paid. It's the union's job to work for them. If management doesn't like it, labor laws pretty much say that they have to pay them to change it. And the owners can bitch all they want about ratings, they're making a lot of money and franchise price tags are astronomical.

Andy Rose said...

@Jeff Maxwell: I think one of baseball's problems is that its slow pace makes it great to watch in person (nothing like hanging out in the stands with a big group of friends and a bunch of beer and hot dogs, talking and laughing until you hear the crack of the bat), but a real chore to watch on TV. And TV is where the teams make their money.

Jon B. said...

What an outrage! Your ideas would destroy the purity of the game! How can you even suggest...ZZZZ...zzzzzzz.

Kaleberg said...

I vaguely remember something called a double header, two games played back to back. I assume you went to the ballpark and watched one game, then the other, like a double feature movie. Would that be eight hours nowadays? The mind boggles.

MikeKPa. said...

I never understood when and how a pitch above the belt became a ball. From my earliest days playing baseball, it was under the armpits to top of the knees. Would like to see how Glavine and Maddux, who would start games just off the plate and by the end of the game be getting six inches off, function today.

Phillies have 13 pitchers and at least two of them are situational (one batter only). Not many 2 hour, 30 minute games this season.

I'd hate to get a clock because what makes baseball special from the other sports is that there is no clock.

sanford said...

I did not read every comment here. So doing this from memory. There are not five pitching changes in one inning (not often any way). I think I am a couple of years older than Ken. I live near Milwaukee. Night games started at 8:00 as well. Limiting throws to first base is ridiculous. It doesn't happen that often unless you have a speedy runner at first. And usually just to prevent them from getting a good start. Limiting bull pen pitchers is also ridiculous. I am sure Ken remembers when teams had 4 man pitching staffs. I have been trying to find an old score card. I found a Braves score card on line that happened to be open to the rosters. It seemed like there were only 8 pitchers on the 25 man roster. Of course pitchers pitched in to the 7th and 8th innings 60 some years ago. No way that is happening today. There were only 59 complete games last year. The best teams could have 60 just by themselves. Even high scoring games didn't take 3 hours when I was young. Today a 2 to 1 game can take 3 hours. I think batters are looking at more pitches. More walks and more strike outs. Replay also takes up time. I don't think people in the stadiums really care how long the games take. I have read fans feel since they spend so much money to go, that they don't care that the game takes a long time. I would agree with Ken that they should call the rule book strike. By the way in the 7th game of the series there were 60 mound visits between the 2 teams. I am not sure when all the mound visits or meetings on the mound started. If you can't visit the mound could the pitcher go to home.

MikeN said...

Didn't you just complain about how baseball is fixing something that isn't broken with their automatic intentional walks?

I agree with you on all of these but the pitches to first base. Anything that encourages steals and that battle is good.

They need to get rid of DH to speed up the game by reducing offense, though this would make things less interesting. Night baseball games makes it harder to interest the next generation of fans.

The official rule is that the top of the strike zone is halfway between the top of the shoulders and the top of the pants. The bottom is the kneecap.

Doug said...

The last really speedy game was probably Padres/Phillies May 4, 1977. Randy Jones was the Padres starting pitcher. He pitched a complete game. First to last pitch was eighty-nine minutes. It would have been quicker if Randy fastball ever hit higher than 75 mph. That isn't an exaggeration; the man never had any heat.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Andy Rose said:

"And TV is where the teams make their money."

Yes, but doubt that revenue shared by the stadium's vendors. The longer we all sit in the stands, the more food and grog we need.

I could be totally off base here, but my guess vendors wouldn't be fans of shorter games.

MikeN said...

Doug that's not unusual. There were two 85 minute games in 2007.
I remember another game by Greg Maddux that finished in close to an hour.

Anonymous said...

Ken, been reading for years, posted a dozen times or so. This was probably your greatest article ever. And I'm a picky baseball traditionalist. Thanks for the rational blueprint.

blinky said...

I guess the next thing Quixotic proposal would be to stop the NBA from calling 12 time outs in the last 2 minutes of a game.

Micah said...

Hey Ken,

Cricket created a whole different version of the sport to fit with the modern attention span, going to 20s instead of the old-school several-day affairs.

Can you envision a different version of baseball that could be played to 2 hours or less?

What do you think that would look like?

benson said...

Micah, it's been done before. Baseball was a two hour and 15 minute game. Players' diddling with themselves slowed it down to this.

Ken and anyone interested, you may want to check out today's Rosenblog in the Chicago Tribune. It pretty much says what Ken is saying, but with more snark. LOL

VP81955 said...

I recall listening to a Braves-Phillies game at the Vet in 1998 where Curt Schilling beat Greg Maddux 1-0 in under two hours. I was returning from the Yankee Stadium opener, where that afternoon New York beat Oakland 18-16.

Micah said...

Benson you are of course right, but it doesn't seem like that is a box that can be unopened at this point. I just wonder if a new version of the same game could catch on in the same way Cricket 20s has.

Bart Gerardi said...

I agree with most, but not all of these.

I think six mound visits per game (by coaches) is fine.

I don't think you should limit rosters, but I think you should limit the number of pitchers in a game to 3 or 4

Yes, the strike zone should be bigger

Legislating in-game action, like limiting throws to first base, is a no-go

Keith Nichols said...

Batters have theme music for walking to the plate? Does each player pick his own tune? I see baseball only on TV, and I assumed that any music I hear is an organist playing whatever occurs to him. Would that be recognized as a theme if I was in the park? Do fielders have themes for when they're chasing fly balls?

Steve Edmans said...

They need to find a better way to measure the effectiveness of pitchers. The current stat (pitchers WAR) is just an adjusted strikeout to walk ratio. This leads to all pitchers trying to strike everyone out. 10 or 15 years ago, before pitchers WAR became popular, pitchers would challenge weak hitters, now days they see the weaker hitters as people they can strikeout. This results in more pitchers per batter.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Good show, MikeN, for citing the strike zone rule.

I'd still like to see some current charts (balls and strikes) because I see plenty of high strikes these days.


Randy Jones, as a college pitcher, played two summers for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots. Memory is very unreliable, but I seem to recall he was a power-pitcher then - probably because he was notorious as a "ground ball pitcher" for San Diego.

(I recall that Pete Rose expressed frustration trying to hit his weak stuff)

Baseball Reference shows that he made the show in 1973 at age 23 after being drafted in 1972 (5th round per Wikipedia).

In AA ball he notched130 K's in 135 innings (8.7 K's/9-innings) but only 3.4/9-innings in the majors.

It seems unlikely, however, that Jones "lost" his fastball through injury. He got plenty of work in the minors, so that does not indicate injury either.

msdemos said...


"Batters must stay in the batter’s box. No hopping out after every pitch to adjust your batting gloves or go through idiotic rituals. Get in, hit, get out."

THANK YOU, Mr. Levine !! I have been saying this VERY thing for YEARS now, but NOBODY cares! As far as I'm concerned, if there was only ONE thing that could be done in an effort to speed up games, this would be the thing I think would save the most time over the course of a full season.

I am SO sick and tired of watching (just about) EVERY SINGLE MAJOR LEAGUE BATTER 'prance and preen' after stepping out of the batter's box after EVERY single pitch!!

My god, quit acting like some prancing prima donna peacock and just hit the DAMN ball, or SIT DOWN !!

Sadly though, as much as I want it, I realize that it is just something that will NEVER, EVER happen.....just like the deluge of commercials that are slowly making tv/cable unwatchable, the MLB will NEVER be able to get a rule passed that prohibits any batter from stepping out of the batter's box........just as tv commercials will NEVER, EVER not be a part of mankind's future existence on this planet....