There is no other sport that is resistant to rule changes quite like Major League Baseball is. The bases have always been 90 ft apart. There have always been nine players on the field. The pitching rubber has always been 60 ft 6 inches from home plate. The size of the bases has always been roughly the same. The game lasts as long as it takes until there is a winner. I was pleasantly surprised when the MLB announced the most sweeping revisions instituted since the lowering of the pitching mound in 1968 to combat the worst statistical hitting season of all time. The main goal is to shorten the length of games and get under control all the time spent in between pitches. Other adjustments are aimed at creating more offense and excitement. I usually write about players who have an offbeat personality and how that made their career interesting. Bear with me as I try to explain why these changes are absolutely making the MLB experience so much better. Let’s look at each one briefly.
The first rule change is in my humble opinion the most important. Starting this year, a pitcher has 15 seconds to deliver a pitch to home plate or a ball is called. He gets 20 seconds if there is someone on base. The hitter must be in the box and ready to hit with no less than 8 seconds left on the clock or a strike is called. Anyone who watches baseball knows that especially in the past 10 years or so, the pace of play has slowed to a crawl. Pitchers take forever to deliver a pitch. Hitters after every pitch stepping out of the box to adjust their gloves, their helmet, their protective cup, you name it. Another change is that a pitcher can’t throw over to a base more than two times to hold a would-be base stealer in place. More on that later. The games that I have watched so far this year have been a revelation! Much better pace and better concentration from the players. Games are 20-25 minutes shorter and much more enjoyable in my opinion. The only thing that is hurting teams is people going to concessions are missing quite a bit of the game since it is moving so fast. Something that can be worked on. Delivery to the seat through an app perhaps?
Another change eliminates a personal pet peeve of mine, the defensive shift. In the past 10 years or so, computer analytics has taken over baseball. Managers now have a treasure trove of information on a hitter’s tendencies. Most hitters pull the ball meaning a right-handed batter usually hits to left field and vice versa. Teams would shift the entire infield defense to the left or to the right and put one infielder in the outfield to plug the only place a pull hitter usually got a base hit at. The short outfielder would throw out the batter from the outfield and rob him of a hit. Hope I explained that ok, I know we are going into the weeds a bit here. This has been eliminated this year and has resulted in more base runners which means more offense.
The size of the bases has been enlarged from 15 to 18 inches this year. Big deal, right? It is a big deal. Let me explain. How many times have you seen a play at 1st base where the runner is thrown out by mere inches? Those close plays ae going to go the hitters way more often now. If 1st and second base are now 3 inches bigger, that cuts down the distance between bases 6 inches. Couple that with a pitcher only being able to try to pick off a runner twice, that has made stolen bases a part of the game again. That evil word analytics told managers that the chance of getting thrown out at second and losing an out was too risky and stolen base numbers have declined steadily. More successful stolen bases are exciting for the fans and puts more runners in scoring position creating more runs.
In a previous article, my daughter called baseball “more boring than soccer” If I can convince her to come with me to a game and she can see how the changes have really improved the watching experience, maybe the younger generation’s appreciation of the National Pastime can be saved! Sure hope so. I will leave you this month with a quote from the great Reggie Jackson. “I feel that the most important requirement in success is learning to overcome failure. You must learn to tolerate it, but never accept it.”
Have a great day and take a kid to a baseball game.