MLB Erases 100 Years to Save One Minute
Tuesday night, MLB announced that, in an effort to improve pace of play, the league has decided to allow an intentional walk to be issued with only a dugout signal. No longer will a pitcher throw the four pitches to walk a batter.
On the surface, a lot of fans see this as a logical and welcomed addition. This act should be a formality for a professional, and eliminating it should speed the game.
Indeed, this change will have an impact—just not the one MLB is hoping.
In 2015, teams averaged .20 intentional walks per game, or one intentional walk for every five games played. As a pace of play argument, in the short term, this rule change has zero effect in this regard. Four “meaningless” pitches in one game a week is hardly losing the attention of fans. In fact, it’s not even enough time for that last-call beer run, or restroom break.
But more critically, it fails to consider the situations in which the intentional walk is typically used.
Intentional walks are a strategic tool used by the defense. Most often this is employed late in games, whether it’s a righty/lefty match-up late, or to set up a double play in the ninth. In these scenarios, fans are not really focused on the walk itself, but on the situational baseball being played.
The minute saved by a signal is not adding anything to the experience—and that’s before we even discuss the possibility that something goes awry.
There lies a balance in this part of the game. The offense (and MLB knows offense sells) is foregoing an advantage at the plate with the issuance of the intentional walk; the trade off is that a pitcher must then break from his rhythm. He spends hours perfecting his speed and location, only to have to throw four balls with the game on the line.
These are professionals however, so what could go wrong?
Making the defense execute is part of the game, and considering how little time is saved, execution should not be part of the pace-of-play discussion.
Examples are more available than you might think:
- Last night, Texas A&M won the game on a passed ball during an intentional walk. And that’s just errant throws.
- Just last year Gary Sanchez hit a sac fly on a supposed intentional walk pitch-out.
- And sometimes you have this:
To take away legitimate parts of the game of baseball to save what amounts to 20 seconds a night…seems like an overreaction. Play the game.
The beauty of baseball lies in its idiosyncrasies. It’s the only big sport without a clock; the only one where you are given the exact same opportunity to win the game—27 outs—as your opponent; the only major sport where a mistake can cost you infinite scores.
In baseball, alone, pace of play allows you to really see the intricacies of the game. You can watch the infield set up, or the catcher move his glove. A glance at the dugout gives you an idea of how the manager is positioning his outfield.
The league isn’t in trouble with younger audiences because of the length of games. It’s the lack of action that fails to grab casual fans.
Losing four pitches every five games is hardly the snap of action a sport of intricacies is looking for.