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The 9:30 Project

Baseball games are too long.

I love baseball, but this has become almost inarguable. Here are the lengths of every playoff game so far in 2017, through the Divisional Series (according to Baseball Reference):

 

Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4 Game 5
ARI/COL 3:54
NYY/MIN 3:51
LAD/ARI 3:37 3:48 3:36
WAS/CHC 3:02 3:06 3:09 3:57 4:37
HOU/BOS 3:26 4:00 3:38 4:07
NYY/CLE 3:26 5:08 3:17 3:47 3:38

 

The median length, then, of an MLB playoff game is 3 hours and 38 minutes long. (Median is better than average, because of extra-inning games.) That’s longer than any other major sport’s games. People (self included) have argued for years that baseball is different: it’s a sport without a clock and we should respect that. But baseball games never used to be this long, and the rules of the game are roughly what they were. And part of preserving tradition is to preserve the way something felt. Baseball games felt quick and crisp even a couple of decades ago, except for interminable Yankees/Red Sox games. Now all the games seem to plod along.

Therefore I suggest that MLB adopt what I call the 9:30 Project, with a goal of making a “typical” night game end by 9:30 PM local time. That essentially suggests that baseball needs to get its median game length down to 2:25. Playoff games are longer than regular season games, which clocked in at 3:05 on average. But there is still a long, long way to go.

So MLB needs to have smart people that love the game try to figure out how to preserve the essence of baseball while also reducing the length of the game. So we’re not going to consider things like reducing the number of innings in a game or the number of players, but we will consider ways to speed things along. I’ll offer a few suggestions to start:

1. Pitch clock. This needs to happen, sadly. Here’s how I would implement it.
 
— If the bases are empty, the pitcher gets 20 seconds from the return of the ball to the mound to make a pitch.
— If the bases are not empty, the pitcher gets 20 seconds from the return of the ball to the mound to either throw a pitch or throw to a base.
— If a batter steps out of the box the clock resets.
— Violations are automatic balls.
 
2. The batters’ box rule. Barring an emergency, per the home plate umpire’s discretion, if the batter steps out of the box without having swung at the previous pitch, the batter is automatically assessed a strike. The batter may step out on swings and misses or foul balls, but once they return to the box, they may not leave until after the next pitch.
 
3. A two-batter rule for pitching changes. If a pitcher is taken out of the game before remaining on the field for a minimum of two batters, they are ineligible to pitch for the next four games. Teams can replace them on the roster for those four games with another pitcher from the minors, but the goal is to limit pitching changes organically. You need to allow pitchers to come out in the event of an injury they sustain while facing their first batter, but if they do they go on the 4-day list. A simple restriction on pitching changes with an injury exemption leaves the rule open to abuse. This is the largest change proposed, because it makes the most extreme lefty one-out guys (LOOGYs) much less valuable. But the constant pitching changes have become a drag on the game, and this would encourage teams to structure their bullpens differently.
 

4. The end of challenges. Challenges are terrible for the game, the way they are administered now. Right now a challenge becomes an opportunity for frame-by-frame review of contact with a base, rather than a way to ensure that a tag was placed by a fielder that was at the base prior to the runner returning to the base (the spirit of the rule, if not the letter). The current system makes stolen bases, caught stealings, and pick-off plays much less exciting, as a “safe” call is always vulnerable to the Zapruder film-level analysis of individual frames of video.

 It should be simpler. Replay is designed to make sure that obvious calls are gotten right. MLB should restructure its replay rule with this in mind. Instead of allowing challenges, it should have a fifth umpire in the booth at every game. This umpire’s sole responsibility is to watch the game (on mute) and determine if a play looks like it was obviously wrong. The umpire would signal down to the crew chief that a play looks wrong. At this point the umpire would have exactly one minute to determine if a play should be overturned. If the ump cannot make the determination within 60 seconds of consideration, the play stands, period. Overturns should be based on obvious missed calls, not on marginal plays that could go either way at full speed.
 
So we’ve added 15 new umpire jobs. In exchange, we have the technology to eliminate one of baseball’s biggest bugaboos: the inconsistent strike zone. The home plate umpire should now rely on a computerized system to determine balls and strikes. This would allow umps to spend more time focused on rules pertaining to plays in the field.
 
5. Shrink the strike zone and deaden the ball. We need to encourage pitchers to throw more strikes. Many don’t because they have to pitch so carefully to avoid giving up homers. This is in part due to the way that the baseball is currently constructed. MLB needs to deaden the ball slightly, to increase drag on flyballs and encourage pitchers to pound the strike zone more.

On the other hand, it needs to shrink the strike zone to give hitters more of a chance to put the ball in play against the amazing hard-throwers that tower over the hitters today. I recommend raising the strike zone to the top of the knee, rather than the bottom, as it is often called now. The goal of this combination of fixes would be shorter at bats and more balls in play, resulting in more opportunities for quick outs.

 These are just five possible avenues for length-of-game reduction, and I’m sure there are other good ideas floating around. It’s imperative that MLB consider its options carefully. Baseball is different than the other sports, and changes should be made with an eye on preserving the things about baseball that are great. But the length of the game is now a crisis, and MLB should treat it as such.

Staff Writer
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Dan Scotto lives and works in Oregon. He has a master's degree in history, with a focus on the history of disease and the history of technology.

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70 thoughts on “The 9:30 Project

  1. I’ll be the contrarian here… While some of the items you mentioned (challenges, two-batter rule) are definitely problematic, I do think one of the complaints about baseball i.e. the speed of the games, is one of the reasons it’s so fun to play. One of the things I miss the most and that I get into when I watch games on TV, is the cadence. It’s that slow rhythm, punctuated regularly by moments of intense motion. The rise and fall of the crowd is similar to football but spread out over a longer period.

    As a player, I also enjoyed the slow speed because it kept me in the dugout longer, hanging out with my friends, and because it kept me on the field longer when we were on defense, which was by far my favorite part of the game. Also, as a catcher, I helped control that cadence when we were on defense and especially during my youth ball days the coaches would often tell my privately that when the pitchers started getting wild, to slow things down. At 14-15 we had all these guys that were developing good arms but they would start moving too fast and wear themselves out and/or lose control. Part of my job was to use those little catcher tricks to slow down the tempo of the game so they could relax. I guess it was my first experience in trying to manage people, and baseball lends itself to that.

    More and more I guess it’s a sport people play (no shortage of kids playing baseball these days) but people don’t watch nearly as much on TV. But I also haven’t looked at the ratings so i may be speaking completely out of my ass here.

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    • MLB has been playing 162 game seasons since (I believe?) 1961 or thereabouts. That is why there was controversy around Maris breaking the single-season HR record that year on account of him having extra games.

      It is possible that there are more days off now than in the past, but I don’t imagine that has changed very much in our life time. The post-season is dragged out a bit more, in part because extra rounds have been added.

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      • The controversy was because everyone loved the Babe. Baseball records do not otherwise take this sort of thing into account.

        The argument for increasing Ruth’s accomplishment is not merely a number of games played. The rules on home runs were different through much of his career:

        (1) Walk-off home runs were only scored as a home run if the batter’s run was necessary to take the lead. Bottom of the ninth, score tied, bases loaded. The batter puts one over the fence. It was, until 1920, scored a single. That was all that was needed to force over the winning run. Down by one run? Scored a double. And so on. You had to be down by three before it was scored a home run. Such a lost home run has been identified for Ruth. I don’t know if there could be others lurking out there. Probably not, as people are pretty obsessive about researching this sort of thing.

        (2) Foul poles. The Babe pulls a towering fly ball down the right field line. It sails just inside the pole, curling around and landing in the seats in foul territory. Is this a home run or a foul ball? Nowadays it is a home run, but that only dates to 1930. Before then it was where the ball landed that mattered. Did Ruth lose some home runs this way? Undoubtedly. Likely quite a few, but attaching a number to this would be pure guesswork.

        The point being that naive comparisons across eras are silly. Adding an asterisk because of the longer season doesn’t make the comparison less naive, and it would not be difficult to find ways in which Maris faced a tougher environment than Ruth.

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      • The season definitely extends later in the year – Justin Turner’s walk off homer was on the very anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s, but Gibson’s was in the World Series.

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        • I’m not sure why you felt the need to say that it occurred on the anniversary of Xvex Tvofba’f, ohg Tvofba’f jnf va gur Jbeyq Frevrf.

          Doesn’t seem like we need to commemorate random gibberish that DID NOT HAPPEN. #toosoon

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          • Just want to say that growing up in California listening to Vin Scully, that was a fun year. It’s not just the win. (It’s definitely the win, but not just the win.) It’s that they played above expectations. When you have an inevitable march to triumph, it is all very nice when you get there. But when you have a bunch of OK players putting together a bunch of career seasons, that is really something.

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            • As a fan of the teams with the most wins of anyone during most of the 2000s (and one measly division series win to show for it), the fact that the overwhelmingly amazing 1988-1990 team only got one WS is a source of great sadness. Particularly since the Tvofba UE is brought up EVERY FRICKEN YEAR.

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        • There’s been some back and forth with the start date, but as Kazzy says, it’s been 162 games since 1961 (AL) and 1962 (NL). What’s different is the postseason lasting a month rather than a week. With postseason play being so lucrative, I can promise you that’s only going to get worse.

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  2. I agree that there’s a problem with the length of the games, and that it appears to be getting worse. OTOH, I disagree with the approach of trying to micro-time actions within the game in hopes that shortening all those tiny incremental things will decrease the total. Shorter times between pitches do nothing if there are also more pitches thrown.

    I’d rather see something like what professional golfing does. Set a target for half-innings in the field, including things like batters faced (don’t worry about complexity, it’s an app). After the third and the fifth, teams playing the field too slowly get a warning. After the fifth and seventh, if a team that was warned has not made up any time, award the opponent a run. Play the eighth and ninth untimed. The batting team can’t be allowed to intentionally slow the defense, but you’ve already solved most of that: make the batters stay in the box. Other adjustments, like stopping the clock due to injury, are fairly obvious.

    This type of scheme allows teams to decide on their own how they’re going to keep the game moving (eg, faster deliveries allow more throws to first).

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    • Another way to speed things up would be to extend the mound-visit limitations applied to coaches to fielders as well: a pitcher gets one field visit from a coach and one from (eg) the catcher, and a third visit from anyone means the pitcher is removed from the game.

      make the batters stay in the box

      I like this idea.

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  3. 1. There is already a pitch clock in the minors. I don’t know if it successful or if it simply going to be used to help train young pitchers to be more efficient (and not be adopted at the majors)

    2. The batter’s box rule was initiated either this season or last; it’s not clear that the Umpires are enforcing it.

    3. Player’s Union will fight elimination of specialist pitching.

    4. Challenges are new and I think they will continue tinkering with the scope. I think a lot of people don’t like the challenges in which the baserunner is sliding over a bag, but because of the bumpy surface (the bag), slow motion tv will show a moment where the body is not in contact and call an out that nobody every imagined was an out. Here instant replay is not making the rulings more objective, but creating a new type of play that didn’t exist previously.

    5. The strike zone has been shrinking.

    Overall, the problem is that the regular games clock in around 3 hours; but for people who don’t watch until the post-season, they see a different type of game where teams are trying to wring out every edge, and they have extra days of rest to have more pitchers available. I’m sure tv advertising doesn’t hurt. I would eliminate walks to the mound, but in the post-season these are the times where dramatic narratives are pushed. What’s he saying to the young pitcher? (Pitch better) ((I’m trying))

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    • There is already a pitch clock in the minors. I don’t know if it successful…

      From memory, games got several minutes shorter the year the pitch clock was introduced, but that change largely disappeared the next season. I doubt the efficacy of micro-timing in the case of baseball; shaving off three seconds per pitch doesn’t gain you anything if it also results in three or four more pitches per inning.

      I’m inclined to a strategy where the umpire can look at his phone app at the end of the third and tell one (or both) managers, “You’re playing too slow. Pick it up over the next two innings or the other team gets a run.” Let the managers decide whether to tell the pitcher to quit stalling, or to make fewer throws to first, or have the batter quit adjusting his gloves on every pitch.

      I have no problem with playoff time adjustments. Say, if the regular season target is 150 minutes, expand it to 180 or 200 for the playoffs.

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  4. @pd-shaw’s last paragraph I think is most on point. I hear the complaint about length most around playoff time where the pitching strategy is nothing like the normal season.

    I’m a dissenter on the idea that these games need to be shortened. If it’s something we’re going to do I don’t think it should be driven by the ultra-casual fan or sports media more interested in the highlights than the quality of the product as a whole. As said above, the slowness of the game is part of its charm.

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    • Concern about the game shortening the game is the leading driver of rules changes throughout baseball history, going back to the 18th (yes: 18th!) century. The difference is that through most of the 19th century the expectation was that a typical game should take an hour and a half to two hours. When it got over two hours, the rule-makers got concerned.

      The difference is that back in the day the issue was what was the latest they could start the game and still have a reasonable expectation of getting in nine innings before it was too dark to play. They wanted to start as late as possible because most spectators had gainful employment, and would be more able to leave the office later than earlier. Nowadays the issue is how late is the game going to end? Ten o’clock is my bedtime. Not my “start to think about getting ready for bed” time, but when I turn out the lights. I can catch that 7:00 game on the radio with a reasonable expectation of staying to the end, but if it runs long I will read about it in the morning. Going to the ballpark? On a work night? It doesn’t happen. I might stay up late on a weekend, or better yet go on Sunday afternoon.

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      • All interesting points but I don’t really see what they had to do with my comment. I don’t hear the push coming from regular fans of the game during the season, but it does consistently around playoff time when suddenly the national media tunes in and people who don’t watch much baseball all summer suddenly are.

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        • I don’t really see what they had to do with my comment.

          (1) Complaints of the game taking too long, and rules being implemented in an attempt to shorten the game, are a long established element of the game, long predating the existence of playoffs, or even of the regular season.

          (2) I am a regular fan. The length of the game affects my participation.

          I think there is a bias in that the national sports media pays less attention to baseball during the regular season, favoring more pressing matters such as speculating about the NFL draft. Baseball fandom is more regional than national in nature. The regional coverage tends to be aimed more at what the local team is doing and why it should be doing something else. So you may be right that the media notices the issue more this time of year, but this is an artifact of the peculiarities of sports media, not of the issue.

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          • All fair enough (and don’t worry given your posting history here I do not doubt your fandom, especially since I think I’ve deduced youre a fellow O’s fan).

            To me if they’re going to do stuff like add a pitch clock or change rules around pitching changes they should first get rid of more recent crap like challenges and shrinking the strike zone. See if that helps before we do something that really screws with the flow of the game.

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            • I think I’ve deduced youre a fellow O’s fan

              The Orioles: Not bad enough to offer the pleasures of wallowing in despair, but not good enough to actually win. Instead they offer sporadic flashes of being just good enough to make you think “You know, maybe these guys can do it” followed by proof that this is not in fact the case.

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  5. Pitch clock: This is always discussed as if it were a new idea. Here is an actual official rule:

    The umpire shall call a ball on the pitcher each time he delays the game by failing to deliver the ball to the batsman when in position for a longer period than twenty seconds.

    That rule was enacted in 1901. A version of it was on the books throughout the 20th century, without anybody noticing. The question is why not? Why was this a dead letter from the start? I think the answer is that there is an internal logic to any sport. Both batter and pitcher are responding to the incentives created by this internal logic. It is difficult to enforce a rule that ham-fistedly tries to alter the outcome while leaving the incentives in place. (See also: Rob Manfred’s dumb idea to abolish the shift.) A well designed rule change alters the incentives rather than mandating the outcome.

    My semi-serious proposal is to bring back the quick pitch. This was outlawed due to safety concerns, especially after the Ray Chapman fatality. The idea of a quick pitch back then was the umpire calls a strike on the batter. The batter turns to the umpire to have a heart to heart discussion on the matter. In the meantime the catcher throws the ball back to the pitcher, who immediately puts it over the middle of the plate before the batter has finished his monologue on the umpire’s visual acuity. The fear was that the pitcher, in his haste, would have poor control and bean the batter, who doesn’t dodge the ball because he isn’t looking. Over the years since then the situation has devolved to the point where there is a long non-verbal discussion between the pitcher and the batter: “Are you ready?” “No, not quite. Give me a sec. OK, now I’m really” “Great! I’ll get ready now. Wait for it…. Now! I’m ready!” “Wait! I’m not ready anymore. I’ll get right back to you…” Repeat as necessary. So change the incentive. The batter is presumed to be ready as soon as both feet are in the box. The pitcher can begin his delivery immediately. The hope is that this incentivizes the pitcher enough that a pitch clock would be superfluous.

    There is, however, another interpretation for why pitchers take so long. In this interpretation, it isn’t merely that they are screwing around, but that this is a necessary recovery period from the previous pitch. When radar guns first became widespread and we actually knew how fast guys were pitching, we would nod respectfully at a 93 mph fastball. Nowadays we see a 93 mph fastball and ask if he has a good slider to go with it. The fastball has to be in the high 90s or more to garner respect. The slow rate at which pitches are delivered may be a necessary consequence of the high speed at which they are delivered.

    Which brings us to the “three true outcomes” trend, in which an at bat is analyzed as resulting either in a strikeout, a home run, or a ball in play. The trend is to favor the first two. This is not a new trend. It has been going on for the past century. Thanks, Babe! It is not clear how much longer the trend can continue, but it is chugging along steadily so far. (2017 had 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings: a new record. 2016 had 8.1, which was also a record.) Higher pitch speed is one among many factors behind this trend.

    Let us stipulate that the trend is a Bad Thing. I’m not sure this is generally held. The chicks, after all, dig the long ball. But if we accept that increased game length is a result, then we have a generally decried secondary outcome. That’s good enough for now. So how to break trend. Change the incentives. Suppose we deaden the ball. The ball crushed into the upper deck now lands halfway up the lower deck. The ball that hits midway up the lower deck is now just clearing the fence. And critically, the ball currently making it to the front of the lower deck is now on the warning track. A bunch of guys currently good for 20 dingers in a season are now hitting long outs. Good players adjust. If they are no longer home run hitters, they will, presumably figure it out and stop swinging for the fences. Hit for average and get fewer strikeouts. Then, in my fantasy world of a perfectly efficient pitching and batting market, pitches will concentrate less on strikeouts and more on inducing weakly hit balls.

    Would this work? Heck if I know. It is all very pat, which should make anyone suspicious. But I doubt that it would even be tried, because of that “deaden the ball” bit. This is an obstacle because we have this collective fantasy that baseball has been the same since at least the end of the dead ball era. In this fantasy we can compare home run totals by Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron as if they were made under the same conditions. Steroids provoke such wrath because people have a hard time pretending that they can compare Ruth’s and Aaron’s and Barry Bonds’ numbers. Openly change the ball and people will have the same objection. This is a modern phenomenon. Back in the 19th century discussions of dead or lively balls were policy discussions, not conspiracy theories.

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      • I don’t know about that, but seriously, why do relief pitchers need 10 pitches to loosen up on the stadium mound when they’ve already gotten loose in the bullpen? Makes no sense.

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        • At the risk of being That Guy, I will point out that by rule it is eight pitches. But to answer your question, one is that being warmed up is a fairly delicate condition. If you are at a game, watch when the manager is out there arguing a call at first base. Watch what the pitcher is doing. Often it is tossing back and forth with the catcher to keep warm. How critical this is depends on the temperature. The second answer is that the warm-up routine in the bullpen has those eight pitches built in. Take them away and this extends how long the pitcher will take in the bullpen. The fielding side generally has ways to stall while the guy in the bullpen is warming up, so the change would not be likely to result in a net improvement.

          Also, seriously, eight tosses don’t take very long. They are not the problem.

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          • The process adds to the length of the game, and increasingly so as more managers use more pitchers during the course of the game. Also, every other major sport requires substitutes to enter the game ready to play. If MLB wants to shorten games in an era committed to situational pitching changes gettin rid of the on field warmups would help.

            Also, seriously, eight tosses don’t take very long.

            So take em in the bullpen and not on the field.

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            • The thing is, many games goto commercial during pitching changes. I don’t think we’ll see any moves that lessen commercial break time because that is where they make the money.

              One of the football networks (not sure which and maybe more than one) has started doing this time where during a dead time where they might have cut to commercial (often a replay), they instead go split screen with an ad and a live feed. When not utilizing this approach, sometimes a dead period would end but a commercial would be running so the on-field folks had to extend the dead period. In this approach, they can avoid that. Doesn’t change a ton but more creative incorporation of advertising may make a difference.

              The NBA has begun allowing (small) ads on jerseys. Maybe baseball should do the same, but instead of having the revenue go to teams, like the networks recoup it in exchange for reduced ad breaks.

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            • A while back a guy watched a tape of a game from the 1980s and a modern game. The two games had virtually identical pitch counts. The modern game lasted much longer. He used a stopwatch and took notes to figure out the difference. His conclusion was that it was time between pitches. Breaks between innings were the same length (which surprised me) and the additional pitching changes in the modern game added only a trivial amount of time. Time between pitches was what mattered.

              I am skeptical of any proposal that nibbles around the edges while ignoring the source of the vast bulk of the delay. They are meaningless fell-good measures.

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              • Well sure. My first-best solution to the problem is a pitch clock. Other things can be done too, tho, to increase the flow of the game and eliminate gamesmanship. Limit mound visits by the catcher to one per pitcher per inning, eliminate relievers warm-up pitches, require that challenges be made within 10 seconds of the end of the play, and so on.

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              • That’s clearly true. Mike Hargrove (i.e. the human rain delay) was once notorious for slowing down the game. Now it seems just about everyone in the league does at least as much self-correcting as he used to.

                And, of course, the pitchers don’t even START their routine until after that.

                The question for me, though, is whether that’s correctable in a way that doesn’t add a new layer of rules-lawyering nonsense to a game whose charms prominently include is that it is untimed and free of penalties.

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                • The question for me, though, is whether that’s correctable in a way that doesn’t add a new layer of rules-lawyering nonsense to a game whose charms prominently include is that it is untimed and free of penalties.

                  Very much this. As I noted elsethread, the pitcher has in theory been on a clock for over a century. It hasn’t worked. It might be possible to enforce it with draconian measures, but the result would be ugly. Mandating behavior is hard, when the incentives work against the desired behavior. Better to change the incentives.

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                  • The rule you quoted does not seem like it is regularly being violated though: “when in position for a longer period than twenty seconds.” The average length of time between pitches is about 23 seconds(*): which I understand to mean the time it takes to pitch, for the ball to be caught, returned, and the pitcher to return to the rubber and stand in position. If the pitcher is prepared to pitch and stares at the batter for longer than ten seconds, I think the batter will ask for time.

                    (*) I’m looking at Fangraphs and it shows that among qualified pitchers in 2017, the range went from an average of 19.8 seconds for Carlos Martinez to 27.6 seconds for Sonny Gray, who is actually 1.4 seconds slower than the next slowest.

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                  • Sure, and if you argue you might get tossed.

                    Nearly every game, however, that doesn’t happen. I suspect there has never been an NBA, NFL, or NHL game with zero penalties.

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              • Its probably useful to distinguish btw/ things that would objectively shorten a game versus subjectively shorten the game. By objectively, I mean it would have to reduce the average game time to less than 3:05. By subjectively, I mean it would not necessarily change the average, but the quality of that time would improve, which generally appears to mean people do not like to watch pitching changes, batters adjust gloves, trips to the mound.

                The thing is though, the changes that adversely effect the pitcher will tend to lengthen the game because a game ends (roughly) with 27 outs. Greg Maddux games were always short because he struck out a lot of people by pitching to the edge of the strike zone.

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                • Have you ever pitched in a game?

                  Someone is being asked to throw a perfect first pitch, in a specific environment (that won’t even be exactly the same as it was pre game, given the starting pitchers will have dug out some dirt/created foot-fall holes, etc).

                  There’s a reason even the starters need to lock in at the beginning of each of their innings even though they’ve already thrown dozens of pitches from the mound. And you can tell it’s important, because even those warmup pitches use arm strength they’d otherwise want to go further into the game.

                  A pre-game inspection is… let’s say… an unhelpful offer.

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                  • Have you ever pitched in a game?

                    Yeah. Was the starting pitcher in the little league all star game when I was in 8th grade!

                    Someone is being asked to throw a perfect first pitch, in a specific environment

                    Yes! That’s exactly what I’m saying! It’s good for the game!

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                    • I don’t understand your reaction to the second part. By “specific environment” I mean that mound with the changes made to it over the course of that game, those lighting conditions, etc.

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                      • Right. And I’m suggesting ditching those concerns for the good of the game. Relievers come in loose, ready to go on the pitch clock. Lack of familiarity with the mound (or whatever) becomes part of the manager’s decision calculus when opting to make a pitching change.

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                          • Pinch hitters nearly always do take a few practice swings, though they are less reliant on being in the actual batters box.

                            I watch professional sports to see the best in the world at their best. I don’t see why moving away from that to save a small amount of time is a good idea (and you don’t seem to disagree it would be movement in the direction that troubles me).

                            Would you also prevent SPs from getting their throws at the top of their innings?

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                            • To be completely honest, I don’t think it would diminish on-field performance of relief pitchers. These guys are pros. If the expectation is that you enter the game on the clock, they’ll bring their A game. To the extent that it *does*, tho, it would only negatively effect away team pitchers who aren’t familiar with the subtleties of that mound. But I find the “subtleties of the mound and lights” argument to be too subtle to take seriously, myself. The whole ritual is an institution which exists without any compelling justification and one which relief pitchers (at least) will say is necessary to maintain on-field excellence yadada. Just like hitters will say stepping outa the box to adjust their cup and restrap their gloves three times is necessary to ensure excellence in hitting yadadidoo.

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                            • Would you also prevent SPs from getting their throws at the top of their innings?

                              No I wouldn’t. But this mischaracterizes my complaint. I’m suggesting that there’s no compelling reason to stop the game to allow relief pitchers to “warm up” (except in the case of injury to the current pitcher of course). I’m also saying that it would be a better game if it weren’t stopped for those warmups even if there are marginal reasons to think it’s warranted (like learning the idiosyncrasies in the mound, which doesn’t make sense to me, honestly).

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  6. I cannot fathom why so many sports insist on a “challenge” system for video review. Getting the calls right is not the responsibility of the coaches/managers nor should it be strategic. It is the refs responsibility to get as many calls right as possible. Add a replay official who reviews all calls at real speed and have him relay any need for additional review time and/or changes to the on-field officials.

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    • Because then the issue becomes whether or not the replay official caught the problem before the next play. The theory, albeit imperfectly implemented, is that there are more players and coaches on the field, with an incentive to watch for stuff the on-field officials got wrong. So the player brings it to the manager’s attention and lobbies for the challenge. No one person can possibly see everything in real time.

      Also, by limiting the number of challenges it minimizes how much the pace of the game is dragged down. Close play at first? Only challenge it if you are serious. But if you are the replay official, you either stop the game for every close play or you end up missing a blown call and getting roasted on Sports Center.

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    • Baseball would seem uniquely suited for this.

      For the argument against your idea, however, see College Football, where non-controversial and obviously-correct calls are reviewed all the time (to the confusion and frustration of both teams).

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    • The NBA’s system has always struck me as particularly bad, since it limits how much of the call can be corrected after review. The ball went out of bounds and the call on the floor gave it to team A. Review shows that a player on team A actually touched the ball last, but failed to control it because someone from team B was yanking on their arm. Since holding wasn’t called on the floor, the rules require that the call be changed to something that is even more wrong than the original call.

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      • Being a grumpy old man, I’m inclined to go backwards on reviews and leave them solely in the hands of the on court officials/referees/umpires. After getting together to discuss they go to replay as the solution to their own collective uncertainty.

        Either that or just get rid of it entirely. :)

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          • One other change I’d make to the challenge system if we’re going to keep ‘it: challenges need to be made before replays appear on the TV (ideally, without the aid of any technology whatsoever) so the flag needs to be thrown within (say) 10 seconds after the play ends, otherwise the call stands.

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          • This is why we have instant replay. Not literally. The first version was implemented earlier. But the point still stands. Instant replay is a fundamentally conservative rule. What it is conserving is the credibility of the game.

            I fully expect to see automated balls-and-strikes calling within my lifetime. I write this not in advocacy. It is just a prediction, like the sun rising in the east.

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            • My general thought, dealing with baseball, football, soccer, what have you, is the further you take the requirements for playing away from the sandbox level, the less legitimacy the “game” being played has. At this point, I almost never watch NFL, MLB etc. So, my dollars don’t matter. But, every contested or replayed action takes me further away from the game. There will always be imperfect calls, technology or no. That is life. And technology, in my eyes at least, does not add to the credibility of the game.

              And I am saying that as a Tigers fan, who knows he was robbed.

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          • I think Dan basically has it right — conceptually, replay should be used as if it were just a matter of having another human ref/ump who happens to have a great angle on the play. At the point that you’re carving out a very small number of plays to be reviewed by Super-Ref with Microsecond Zoom Vision, not only does it make the review take longer but it also doesn’t fit with the fact that the other 99% of the refereeing involves normal human perception and judgment.

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            • Agreed. When they show a hyper slow-mo replay that shows a ball nipping the tip of a blade of grass that somehow missed the mower blade and therefore changing the call, I go bonkers.

              I believe Gregg Easterbrook proposed a system wherein someone sitting in a dark room sees the TV flash on and one or more angles show the play in real time with no volume. He then offers his own interpretation of the play and that stands.

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  7. “Baseball is too long. Let’s make it an entirely different sport to shave a few minutes. And add a bunch of other controversial ideas with no relationship to time-of-game.”

    I think if you want to end LOOGY trends, you need to shrink rosters. Little-league style “healthy player cannot play” rules seem completely unsuited to professional sports.

    More to the point, has this exactly right. In “the good old days” when games were fast and pitchers pitched complete games, they did so by lobbing their pitches in (and having a far less advanced talent pool). Heck, the 1927 Yankees (one of the all-time best teams under most people’s estimation) had room for a complete black hole at third base. This was true for many reasons (no international players, no non-white players, no farm systems, and no significant player salaries). When you watch video of very old games, it is clear pitches are far less than max effort.

    Over time, all of those things have changed. MLB added a farm system in the 30s, so you could develop good players internally (and, I suspect, so pitchers who were injury risks could blow up their arms in anonymity). It integrated (slowly) in the forties. It started to extensively seek out international talent. Free agency led to salaries worth sacrificing your life for (even the pros used to take the winter off and essentially screw around and relax).

    Now nearly every pitch is max-effort, which the batter nearly always meets the same way. Every so often there is a freak of nature pitcher who can do that quickly and for a full game (Mark Mulder is my prime example) but most people need to collect themselves and ultimately need to hand the ball to the bullpen. Which takes time, and could only be “solved” by preventing them from performing at their peak.

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    • ““Baseball is too long. Let’s make it an entirely different sport to shave a few minutes. And add a bunch of other controversial ideas with no relationship to time-of-game.””

      Is it really necessary to snarkily and unfairly summarize the author’s post before starting your response? Your comment was good, but the snark didn’t add to it.

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  8. The game length finally got to me last night, as I saw it was already past well past 11pm when the 6th inning closed out, but then I saw that the game didn’t *start* until 9pm.

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