It’s spring and that means with spring training comes the release of the new rules for the coming season. I’m not a hoary old traditionalist(2), so some of the more recent rules I like (increased use of replay is a net positive, I think) and some I don’t (the 30 seconds for coaching visits seems like punishment for having Old Man Knees and the new slide rule at second base is a bad collision waiting to happen), but the one that I object to the most is the recently proposed intentional walk rule(3).
As proposed, when a team wants to intentionally walk a batter, instead of the pitcher being forced to throw four balls outside the strike zone, the manager will just signal from the dugout.
This is a dumb idea for the following reasons:
- It doesn’t actually do what it’s supposed to do; namely, speed up the game.
Calculations vary, but intentional walks take up very little time already.
Intentional walks took an estimated 1410 minutes in 2016.
That is 35 seconds per game. Is the automatic IBB really gonna fix pace of play?
— MLB Statistics (@MLBRandomStats) February 22, 2017
Oooh, thirty five seconds a game! Because we all know that anyone who thinks baseball is boring because it takes too long is definitely going to be swayed by games that are 35 seconds shorter.
2. The only way it engages the casual fan is to confuse them.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been sitting at a game and had people around me try to figure out why the batter was heading to first. Was there interference? Was he hit by a pitch? What happened? Add another thing to the list, if we’re letting the manager signal from the dugout for the intentional walk.(4)
3. It takes the game out of the players’ hands.
One of the things I heard repeatedly about umpires is that “no one goes to a game to see the umpires.” True (mostly). But no one goes to a baseball game to see an old guy wave his hands around in the dugout, either. We go to see the pitchers pitch and the batters bat and the fielders field. We go to see the ball put in play. And every rule change that errs on the side of taking the ball out of play is a rule change that better have a significant upside to be worthwhile.(5)
4. It takes a bit of fun out of the game.
Not a lot of fun, because no one goes to a baseball game and thinks “ooh, I hope someone gets an IBB today!”, but a little bit of fun. It’s fun to jeer when the opposing team is too scared to pitch to your guy, and it’s fun to watch the on deck batter get worked up about being considered the weak link, and it’s especially fun to watch an errant pitch result in a run or a stolen base. Most of the time, intentional walks just end up as walks, but sometimes they don’t, and that’s the whole point. If I wanted to watch what was likely to happen instead of what actually happened, I would play rotisserie baseball.(6)
5. Yes, I know that other people more important than me are in favor of it.
Of course many managers like the idea because it reduces the chance that one of their pitchers might make a mistake. Of course many players like the idea because it saves them pitches and, again, the chance that one of them might make a mistake. And, sure, many umpires like it because it means one less thing they have to worry about. And yeah, many fans like it because many fans are dumb.(7)
But the long and the short of it is that this rule change accomplishes little and removes slightly more. If they want to speed up the game, limit visits to the mound, enforce the batter’s box rule, and use the pitch clock. That’ll shave some minutes off the game! But don’t eliminate the requirement that the pitcher has to pitch to the batter in the box, because without that, what’s left?(8)
(4) this is not an argument against the rule change, but I do wonder about the timing of the signal. It would have to be after the batter has gotten into the box, I would think, because otherwise we run into walking guys who aren’t even batters, yet, but then we still have to wait for all of the digging in, glove adjusting, etc., that takes up a lot of time to begin with.
(7) Okay, I’m kidding (sort of) about the last one, but I’m only interested in the thoughts of people who actually like baseball. People who dislike baseball don’t get to have an opinion I value, and in return, they don’t have to care about my dumb opinion that football is just group boxing.
“My thing is, if they really want to speed up the game, then when a guy hits a home run, to speed up the game should a guy, just like in softball, when he hits it, should he just walk to the dugout? It’d be quicker. I’m just wondering, at what point do we just keep the game, the game?”
Good question, Russell! Good fucking question!