With the new expanded replay and manager’s challenges rules taking effect this season, many critics are worried about how this will impact the pace of play. Some people already think baseball is too slow, and the games take too long. Adam Wainwright recently voiced his opinion to speed up the game. While I don’t see anyone (other than pitchers) wanting to expand the strike zone, doing so would in fact speed up the game. The fans would no doubt dislike this because, let’s be honest, everyone digs the long ball. When I speak with my friends that don’t enjoy baseball as much as I do, their top complaints are that the game is too slow and too low scoring. Expanding the strike zone would only lead to even less scoring than we see now. Having discarded Waino’s idea, let’s take a look at some possible solutions to improve the pace of play in Major League Baseball.
Disclaimer: These are my opinions, feel free to disagree.
Put a time limit on batters between pitches. I cannot stand to watch a batter step out of the box after every single pitch to adjust his cup, tighten his batting gloves, take too many practice swings, stare down at his coach for a signal, etc. Nomar Garciaparra may have been one of the worst players when it comes to this. Jonny Gomes during the 2013 World Series drove me nuts doing this (adjusting his helmet constantly). Even former Cardinals Skip Schumaker is guilty of this. Arguments against this rule would be that the pitcher would have an advantage because the hitter would be uncomfortable. Keep in mind these are highly trained and skilled athletes that get paid millions of dollars. They should be able to hit no matter what the situation is. Another variation of this rule would be to allow the hitter to step out of the box only if they took at a swing at the previous pitch. If they watch the pitch go by, there is no need to step out and make adjustments.
On the same level, there should be a time limit on the pitchers. Too many times the pitcher throws his pitch, gets the ball back, rubs it up, walks around the mound, takes a couple deep breaths, stares in to the outfield for no reason as if he will receive a sign from a higher power as to what pitch to throw next, then toes the rubber and shakes off a dozen signs from the catcher. Jonathan Papelbon might be the worst at this. I cannot stand to watch him pitch. Get the ball, toe the rubber, get the sign, and throw. Wouldn’t it be advantageous to the pitcher to speed up his pace to keep the hitter unbalanced? Some pitchers may say they will feel rushed and unfocused if this takes effect. Again, they are superb athletes. They should be able to adjust to this rule. The one exception to this would be if they feel they tweaked something. I understand that. No one wants to see injuries due to speeding up the pace of play.
Dealing with pitchers again, limit the number of warm-up pitches between innings, and when a reliever enters the game. There is no reason a pitchers needs 8 warm up pitches between innings. They should still have the feel of the mound and ball. The only time I can see the full 8 needed would be if it was a very long previous half of an inning. This would be up to the umpires discretion. Also, if a reliever enters the game without properly warming up due to an injury to the previous pitcher. He should then receive as many warm ups as needed (to a certain extent). If the relief pitcher is already warmed up, he should not need 8 pitches once he gets to the game mound. There shouldn’t be that much difference between that mound and the bull pen mound. Critics will argue this will increase injuries to pitchers. I do not see that likely, but perhaps a study could be performed to test this.
There are already a limit to mound visits by manager/coach and catcher. However, rarely are these enforced. Perhaps a harsher penalty should be given if this is violated. A majority of mound visits are just to delay the game as the reliever gets ready. Limiting the number of visits, or timing them should cut down on this waste of time.
A somewhat off-the-wall idea would involve intentional walks. If the pitcher is going to intentionally pass a hitter, does he really need to throw the 4 pitches off the plate? I understand there is a chance he could hang one over the plate that the hitter could swing at. He could also throw one past the catcher allowing any baserunner to advance. Maybe this rule would only take effect if there are no baserunners. A similar situation could involve the home run trot. Does the player really need to run around the bases? If it is hit out, give him the run(s) and continue with the game. More times than not, the trot leads to a delay because the batter has to sit in the box and admire his hit, then take his time to boost his ego as he rounds the bases listening to the cheers of his fans (or the jeers of the other team’s fans). I am sure the pitcher would rather just get a new ball and get ready to throw to the next batter. For reference, the slowest home run trots of 2013 were timed at 29-31 seconds. The quickest times are just over 16 seconds.
Limiting the number of pick off attempts per at bat would be a difficult rule to implement. If the pitcher hits that limit, the runner has an unfair advantage as he knows the pitcher will be going to the plate, so his lead could grow substantially.
Asking players to hustle on and off the field could save some time. However, this time is used for pitchers warm-ups as well as TV commercial breaks. Maybe when substituting a player, a rule could be made to have those players hustle on and off the field. I remember seeing Lee Smith walk…WALK…from the bullpen to the pitcher’s mound. Once he got to the mound, he still had his 8 pitches to throw.
The umpires could have a large factor in speeding up the game. A lot of times they huddle up between innings to discuss previous plays, or where they are going to get dinner after the game. They also tend to rub up and check every baseball that gets fouled off or thrown in the dirt. I understand they want to eliminate any scuffs on the baseball, but can’t they give the catcher a new ball as they eye this one over? And of course, the umpires could be more diligent in enforcing the rules.
Expanded replay could impact the pace of the game. However, I think most players, managers, and fans agree this new replay system is for the best. It will be interesting to see if MLB tries enforcing any other rules to help speed up the game. Thanks for reading. If you have any other ideas, feel free to post them in the comments.