Nationals Baseball: If I ran baseball...

Friday, February 23, 2018

If I ran baseball...

Arrieta sign with the Phillies last night? No.  Ok so our talking points are still at none.  How about I tell you some of the things I would do if I were running the league.

Pace of Play

Sports are entertainment and if they aren't entertaining you it's not primarily because of the length of games. It's because of the product on the field/court/ice. Baseball has a problem where it seems boring and it's trying to solve it by shaving off minutes.  That won't work.  Baseball seems boring because we've realized some innate truths about the game.

Walks aren't as good as hits, but they are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than getting outs. Strikeouts are worse that other outs but just barely so don't worry about it. Because Ks don't really matter everyone should just grip it and rip it and try to hit homers. Combined these things conspire to slowly strangle the life out of baseball as fewer and fewer balls are put in play, even as the games get gradually, ever so slightly, longer. This is what needs to be solved.

But it's hard. How to make walks harder or more unappealing? How to make Ks more of an undesirable outcome for players?  We can take care of the homer issue a little bit by keeping the fences back and maybe deadening the ball, but unlike walks (boo) and strikeouts (eh - depends), fans love homers so you don't want to change too much about them.

What would I do? I'd move fences. I'd also widen the strikezone.  That's a gambit. Stirke zone tinkering doesn't always work like you think it would. But the idea would be - wider strike zone, more room to make living for pitchers who excel at weak contact as opposed missing bats. Walks would probably go down. Strike outs may go up at first, but as the game adjusts with better contact hitters they would go back down.

Mound visits? I'd limit them, but probably only 1-7 or something like that. I don't want late game strategy to be hindered by a silly rule. Pitch clock? In minors, yes. In Spring, yes. In the majors? No. This goes for stepping out of the box, too. Teach them the way you want them to act in the majors, but don't force it at the major league level.  Most players will keep the traits picked up in the minors.  Some won't but these are guys who it doesn't work for. 


Did you know baseball starts on Thursday this year? Man that's dumb. I guess it's not the worst day, Tuesday or Wednesday would be worse, but having your pick and ending up with probably the third worst day? That takes some big time idiocy.

Anyway since I have total power in this scenario I'll do something they real league won't/can't. I'll make the baseball regular season start in April and end before October.

I don't actually mind a showcase game on Sunday night and it makes promotional sense. Maybe even a showcase set of games at 12, 4 and 7. But if you do this the games have to be showcases, not just a random game picked out of a hat like Astros - Mariners.  The schedule should be set up so either a NLCS or ALCS rematch kicks off the season.

I'll divert here to say the same should happen with Spring Training. The first "game" (won't be really the first game played but it's how you should promote it) needs to be a playoff rematch. Start with the WS and work backward until you find two teams in the same ST area to face off. Yeah, 50% of the players won't be anybody you care about but it's the best you are going to do. 

Getting back to the regular season, I've always loved the Cincinnati parade / first game of the season tradition. Don't know that's a tradition? That's because MLB has stomped all over it the past few years. Instead they should embrace it. Make the first game on "Opening Monday" be always Cincinnati at home at Noon (everyone else can start at 1). Show their parade. Make it a thing. Baseball needs more things.

How do I get the season to fit in between April and September, when teams are clamoring for more off-days, not less? Easy - scheduled double headers! There will be four of them and they'll always be the same time of year. More things. First weekend in May. Draft Day. Hall of Fame Induction Day. Labor Day weekend. They can be dual admission day night games. That's fine. But this burns up four games and it gives the Draft Day (snoozer) and Induction Day a little more juice. Out of everything here though - this is the least likely things to happen.

As a side note - I'd set the Induction Day to be the first Sunday in August. It has recently settled into one of the last Sundays in July, but I think giving it a little more space from the ASG makes sense.

The easiest change in this whole damn blog post and the one they should do immediately is they should make the Futures Game the Sunday Night game before the All-Star Break. The teams would love it. They are all done for break by the late afternoon. The network probably wouldn't care - ratings wouldn't be that different I don't think. They might be better. AND you better showcase the players of the future, rather than have them play in the afternoon up against baseball games fans might care about. Honestly the fact this hasn't happened already shows that someone up there doesn't know what they are doing at all.

Baseball has ASG Monday set with the HR Derby and ASG Tuesday is the game. What's Wednesday? The ESPYS? HAHAHAHAHAHA. Baseball should do something here too. My suggestion - a skills competition from former recently retired MLB players. Strike zone challenge, throwing runners out from the OF, base running races, bat control, bunt control, and of course another HR Derby.  By using former players you don't have to worry about injury.

They are doing a special Thursday night game this year filling in an extra day off. That's better than nothing but if you fill one of Wed/Thursday. I'm fine with one day off.

Hey - did you know one league's teams have a slight advantage in setting up their rotations in the playoffs? Yep, because baseball wants to stagger the playoffs to fill every night with a game, the WC game for one league is a day before the WC game for the other league. Yet both leagues end on the same day. Weird. So don't do that. I'm not suggesting taking away that sweet post-season ad revenue though.  Instead stagger the end of the regular season. Have one day be the last day for one league and the next the last day for the other. That way the playoffs line up.  You'd have only half a slate of games that last day but who really cares. This isn't a competition issue. This is just something that bothered me.

I'm sure I have more ideas that I just can't think of so I'll toss them out as they come to me. Probably in the comments. 


Anonymous said...

One problem with your end date idea — mlb is at 30 teams so always need an inter league game.

Josh Higham said...

I'm in favor of a 2 team expansion, which would allow a schedule reduction to 156 games, like that one baseball america article suggested (

I don't like the idea of dissolving the AL and NL, no matter how much travel time and money it would save, but I'm sure clever people could come up with clever ways of realigning divisions in a way that would preserve the AL and NL.

Harper said...

Oh yeah I forgot - expand by 2 teams.

Also I'd make interleague a 6 game series only between rivals or what has to pass for rivals and I'd do it like once every 4 years. Keep it special.

Phil said...

You forgot BAN REPLAY. Not only is it excruciatingly boring, but it leads to absurd outcomes that undermine faith in the fairness of the game. Maybe allow it for HRs or for the crew chief to overturn Jim Joyce-style obvious blunders.

Ole PBN said...

I think the whole uprising over the use of instant replay, specifically as it pertains to out/safe calls on the base paths, is that the memory of what it used to be like is still fresh in everyone's minds. Perfect example (that drives me crazy too I'll admit) is a runner thrown out at 2nd or 3rd on a steal attempt. Runner's hands break contact from the base for a split second while the infielders glove is on him the entire time... Normally and in the past = safe by a mile, not even close, move on. But... upon further review... OUT! What?! NOOO!!!

Bottom line, it is the correct call and I think deep down that is what every fan wants. But replay has caused us to look deeper into things we never had the chance before. As long as the call is right, I have no problem, which with replay, it usually is. Now, in terms of the strikezone, that has kept with the human element of error and it is FULL of them. Missed balls/strikes in playoff game in late-inning situations changes the outcome of the entire series potentially. We don't want to look at that? I don't know... its tough to have it both ways I think.

Josh Higham said...

Ole PBN, I disagree pretty strongly with the assertion that every fan wants the "correct" call. I am inclined to believe that replay makes aggressive base running (including stealing) less valuable because of the increased chance of being ruled out because your foot bounces an inch off the bag on impact. Which means unless you're a Turner/Hamilton type who can steal 40 bases with ease either you stop stealing or you slide headfirst. Uh oh, remember that year that 3 or 4 of baseball's elite players all lost weeks/months to hand injuries because of sliding headfirst? This isn't a slippery slope argument, because I do think the negative effects stop roughly with less running or more injuries.

And really, the spirit of the rule is that you can't run through the bag attempting to take 2nd or 3rd. The spirit of the rule has nothing to do with whether your hand or foot bounces upward such that a 3 minute video review is required to determine if you're out or not. You can have replay to see if the throw and tag beat the runner, but if you're going to use it often, you've got to rewrite the rule so that we don't lose aggressive baserunning.

If we could have instantaneous calls that were precise to within millimeters and milliseconds, that would be one thing. And the old school way, where an umpire makes a call right away that may be wrong, that's not too bad either. But protracted review leading to an outcome that doesn't fit what baseball has always been--that's bad, even when it gets your team a sorely needed out to seal a game.

Ole PBN said...

Josh, while I'm a baseball lifer and will love the game for what it "has always been" (not for what it can become)... what I'm hearing you say is that calls have been wrong in the game many times, for many years-- and that's okay? Just because it's always been that way? And now that we have a way of correcting that error going forward, we shouldn't do it? I think the notion that replay takes away the integrity of the game is pretty asinine, especially if the the integrity is over missed/wrong calls that can now be corrected via replay. Just my two cents...

Josh Higham said...

I think the game is slower and/or has more injuries if we allow for replays like the one that nabbed Lobaton in G5 last year to become normal. I really don't think it was the outcome of the review that bothered me as much as spending an inordinate amount of time out of the flow of the game. And I don't want guys to approach the bag differently (more dangerously) to avoid being out because of a foot bump, nor do I want guys to stop running the bases to avoid making an out that you need 5 camera angles to call.

NotBobby said...

@Josh right, I am all for correct calls but I just want it done quickly. Also, my memory is that instant replay was instituted to stop things like Armando's perfect game from getting screwed by a blatantly bad call. If the ump could not have been more accurate without slo-mo to give him supernatural sight then I say go with the original call and let the game keep going!

PotomacFan said...

And just from these comments, we can see the huge dispute regarding instant replays. My own view is that instant reply should be limited to home runs; fair or foul ball; and plays at first base (and maybe force out at other bases, but probably not). I can live with umpire errors on tag plays.

My biggest concern is the inordinate amount of time that replays take. How about this: a two minute limit -- if there is not obvious evidence of an erroneous call, the call on the field stands. We watch these replays at home, from multiple angles, in super slow motion, and still many calls are too close to call. Other calls are obviously correct (surprisingly often, despite the public's disdain for umpires) or obviously incorrect.

Separately, I think there should be a pitch clock, a limit on pitching mound visits, and something to keep the batter's in the box (stepping out of the box to tighten batting gloves after a non-swing is ridiculous).

Long games are hurting baseball. I would go to a lot more games, especially on weeknights, if the average game were 2.5 hours, rather than 3 plus hours.

combee said...

No replays, ever
Reduce team rosters - no specialists
Limit number of relievers per inning - no loogys
No stepping out of box or off mound
Bring back Bob Gibson

mike k said...

I don't have a problem with replay. I don't like the "hands off the base for a split second = an out" occurrence. I know it's technically "right", but it's really not the outcome that was *meant* to happen. And if it was the outcome that was meant to happen, then that's wrong, too. Oversliding the bag or the hand comes off for a while? Yes, that's an out. If the force of your hand hitting the bag is what caused the hand to come off the bag for .1 seconds? Write a rule saying that's now safe. Would stop fans from losing their minds when it happens, and would cut down on a lot of replay time. I'm also in favor of a replay clock, which I think they already had...?

I think Harper's right that it's the nature of the modern day game, and not things like stepping out of the batter's box or replay, which is making the game so long and boring. I read somewhere that the amount of pitches per batter is breaking records every year, and for the reasons that Harper mentioned (more Ks and BBs). Shaving marginal times off mound visits isn't going to fix that. I think ad time has also increased, but I haven't heard decreasing that as a possible fix.

Anonymous said...

1. Get rid of replay. The pitch clock could never get back the time wasted every game trying to figure out if someone’s hand came off the bag for a millisecond during a steal.
2. Use robo-umps for the strike zone. Hitters would have more confidence in swinging/not swinging if the thought of being hosed by a terrible Angel Fernandez/CB Bucknor-type blind (or biased) umpire was eliminated. Hits would go up, walks would go down.

Combee said...

Why is it so important to overturn "incorrect" calls through replay? It's intrusive, time-consuming, picayune and drama-killing. Error, chance, the gods, whatever, are part of all athletic competition.

Brooklyn Dodger in MD said...

The pace of play is a big problem, but the length of games is a really big problem. For a working stiff, going to a game that ends after 11:00 pm is a disaster. Games should average less than 2.75 hours. Reducing trips to the mound is a big plus. I would also suggest requiring relief pitchers to stay in for at least two batters or the end of the inning (whichever comes first). I know this would reduce the benefit of having left-handed specialists, but it would introduce different strategic decisions. Now, a game might move crisply along for six innings, only to be followed by a succession of mound visits and relief pitchers that slow the game to a crawl. Moreover, why does the manager have to walk to the mound to change pitchers? Seems as though that substitution could be made more efficiently from the dugout. Many more changes are possible and some ideas are better than others, but more has to be done.

Barney said...

I think that a recent calculation from a SABR person noted that the largest contributor to slow games is the time the pitcher takes between pitches. Using a pitch clock in the minors might train people in the minors, but, once in the majors they are "free" and will take advantage of it. A man in jail is "trained" to spend his days in one room, but I'm sure that he doesn't spend his life in one room once freed. So, pitcher need a pitch clock in the majors, too (seriously enforced).

Combee said...

I'm not sure the problem is the pitchers. Many batters step at least partly out of the box after every pitch. What exactly Is the current rule on stepping out of the box? I would allow the pitcher to start his motion as soon as his foot is on the rubber, regardless of where the batter is. This would force batters to stay in the box, ready to hit, and would encourage pitchers not to waste any time. I think this approach would be preferable to a pitch clock, which would introduce an extraneous complication to the game.

Josh Higham said...

I'm pretty sure the problem with time between pitches is batters stepping out, as evidenced by 2015, when MLB enforced the rule against stepping out without having time granted.

I'm not against replay, but like several others here, I'm against agonizingly long replays waiting for umpires to decide, for example, if a guy wiggled off the bag for a fraction of a second after beating the tag. Use replay to decide whether a throw beats a runner, and if a diving catch was made off a bounce, and so on. Those things are almost always quick and obvious. A time limit on the length of review would be good, and I'd support a really short limit. 60 seconds from when the headsets go on would be fine with me, even if they fail to get a call right sometimes. Plenty of incorrect calls go unchallenged because they happen in early innings or low leverage situations, so I don't see why allowing a marginally bad call to stand to avoid a huge delay would be bad.

Someone mentioned robo-umps. I don't think pitch tracking tech is consistent enough. I am pretty sure that currently, pitch fx and statcast currently require manual entry of pitches several times a game because the tracking systems just lose a pitch here and there. I don't mind the argument that ball/strike calls should not vary by umpire, but I don't think we have the tech to replace humans without making the game worse.

Ole PBN said...

Agreed - I am all for a time limit on replays. But what drives me crazy is a close play, and then either manager holding up their hand saying "hold on a minute"... 3-4 minutes later... "yes we want to challenge that." You shouldn't get to look at and analyze the video for yourself before the challenge is presented or declined. Add in another 5-7 minutes for umpire review and you're standing around 10+ minutes wondering if a guy is out or safe. I do think getting the correct call is important, but not through those agonizing means.

Apparently there is a rule regarding how much time a manager has before he can challenge a play. But it isn't enforced, which is the problem with a lot of these new replay rules that MLB has put in place.

Josh Higham said...

MLB has, I think, a lot of good rules that are unenforced. Stepping out of the box and holding up the game to decide about a challenge are two things that are objectively bad for baseball that there are already rules against.

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