Last year, the average Major League Baseball game was nearly three and a half hours long. While part of the beauty of baseball is that it has no clock, the length of a baseball game can’t continue to increase in this day and age. Earlier this week, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred took a step in the right direction. Instead of requiring pitchers to throw four pitches outside of the strike zone to intentionally walk a batter, it now can be done with a hand signal from the dugout by the team’s manager starting this season.
Will this speed up baseball games? Probably not!
In an era dominated by pitchers, only 932 intentional walks were issued last year according to ESPN. That averages out to roughly one intentional free pass every three games. The effect will be unnoticeable to the average fan, and even to many baseball purists.
Those same purists are critical of the move, arguing that it changes how the game is played and takes some excitement out of the game. Yes, sometimes pitchers messed up and teams capitalized on it, snagging an extra base or maybe even a run. But those scenarios are so rare, and there are better plays in baseball than a wild pitch; trust me on that. When the catcher steps out to take the four pitches, fans just reach for their phones or get up for a beer or the bathroom. It was wasted time, but now it’s gone.
This move to eliminate throwing for the intentional walk won’t magically make baseball games shorter, but it’s a step in the right direction. Instead of making drastic changes that would change the game as we know it, Manfred seems to be opting for smaller, simpler and more logical changes. Changing intentional walks to a dugout signal is a no-brainer. When it does occur, it will save around a minute, maybe more, of time.
If baseball ever returns to a more hitter-friendly environment and intentional walks come back into fashion, it could cut a decent chunk of time from a game without sacrificing a loss of any action or excitement. Not to mention, it’s four less pitches pitchers have to throw. Four pitches isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it adds up over the course of the year. Pitchers might appreciate saving a few pitches here and there as the season goes on.
On top of this, Manfred also limited replay reviews to a maximum of two minutes. It’s impossible to say how this will affect the accuracy of reviews this season, but with replay reviews becoming more common, capping them at two minutes should cut some time too. All the while, the actual product remains unaffected.
Manfred has more changes up his sleeve, some more along of the lines what will be implemented in 2017 and others a little more drastic. A 20-second pitch clock is already used in the minors and is itching for a call-up to the big leagues. Mound visits from players may be on their way out, and maybe the low strike in the strike zone, too. Manfred wants to see these in action in 2018, but there’s not guarantee that it happens.
However, a few will work their way into baseball games in the future; others will get shot down by the player’s association. But as more and more of these little changes make their way onto the field, it will make a big difference.