By Liz Hay

Elm Staff Writer

On Feb. 6th, The Athletic reported that Major League Baseball and its player’s union were discussing serious changes to the game. It is likely that at least some of these changes will be implemented, perhaps as soon as the 2019 season. Many proposed rules reflect MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s dedication to speeding up the game, while others cater to the dissatisfied player’s union, which has been asking for some concessions for a long time.

Some rules, like an additional spot on each team’s roster or tweaks to the draft order, make a lot of practical sense without significantly altering the strategies or atmosphere of the game. The draft order change would disincentivize teams from purposefully tanking their seasons in order to earn better draft picks.

Other proposed changes, however, are much more controversial. One suggested proposal would put a base runner on second base for each team during every extra inning. Despite the frustration they can cause, slow extra innings are part of the game. It just doesn’t make much sense for teams to benefit from a player in scoring position that they didn’t actually earn. The dramatic, 10-inning Game 7 of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians would have felt much less genuine if this rule had been in place, for example.

The proposed rules would add the designated hitter position to National League teams as well. The DH, a player without a defensive position who bats for the pitcher, has been a mainstay of American League baseball since 1973. The DH may add some more offensive flair, but it degrades some of the strategy and unpredictability present in the National League.

The lack of designated hitters in the National League cultivates the expectation that pitchers be good all-around players. This adds quality to the game, and the wrench that pitchers throw into the batting order is often an opportunity for managers to engage with the more strategic side of the game. Plus, who doesn’t love the joyful surprise when the pitcher capitalizes on his chance to contribute offensively? It may be rare, but it’s well worth the wait.

The best change in the whole package is the proposal to add a 20-second time clock between pitches for both pitchers and batters. This would prevent some of the time-wasting between pitches that has contributed to an increasing average time for baseball games.

According to FiveThirtyEight, “compared with 2007, the average MLB pitcher now holds the ball a full two seconds longer between consecutive pitches. This leisurely behavior has helped drag the average game out to a full three hours, five minutes — roughly 10 minutes longer than it was two years ago.”

FiveThirtyEight also reported that for every additional second pitchers wait between pitches, their next pitch is about 0.02 miles per hour faster. This may seem small, but it adds up in a game. After 20 seconds, though, there are decreasing returns for each second the pitcher waits. The MLB rule change would set a pitch clock at 20 seconds so that pitchers maximize their rest without wasting unnecessary time.

For some of these rules, the intended audience is unclear. Devoted fans will be annoyed at changes looking to subvert strategic elements of the game, while casual fans are unlikely to stick it out through an extra-innings game even with the added base runner rule. Some of these rules are certainly useful adaptations for modern times, but quite a few seem to be unproductive, only subverting the classic nature of America’s pastime.

The Elm

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