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Rob Manfred sure is full of a bunch of stupid ideas

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Stop tinkering, Commish.

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Ever since Rob Manfred took over as MLB Commissioner, he has been focused on improving the pace of play in the game. He has floated a number of ideas, but the latest proposed idea would be a radical change in extra innings. According to reporter Jeff Passan, baseball will implement the change in rookie ball in the minor leagues. The rule would put a runner at second base to begin extra inning. The plan would presumably increase the odds a team would score to end the game, preventing long, extra-inning games.

“Let’s see what it looks like,” said Joe Torre, the longtime major league manager who’s now MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer and a strong proponent of the testing. “It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.

The idea has been widely panned, at least as proposed for the Major Leagues. And for good reason.

Think about the last few years of Royals baseball when they have gone into extra innings. Think about the thrill when a runner reached first base. Would they pinch hit? Would they bunt the runner over? Would the runner steal second? Excitement! Tension!

Rob Manfred took a look at that and said “LET’S GET RID OF THAT!.”

It is a solution in search of a problem. Last year there were 2,427 Major League games played. There were 185 extra inning games last season, of those only 112 went past the tenth inning. Of those, only 31 or 1.3% of the total games played, went past the twelfth inning. An eighteen-inning game might happen once or twice a year, and when it does it is ENJOYABLE MADNESS! Fans get nuts! Position players get to pitch!

The idea just further shows how confused baseball is about the problems of pace of play. Overall game time length is not the issue. Football games routinely stretch to close to four hours, but no one complains because there is typically constant action (so long as you don’t mind huddles after every play).

What people complain about when they complain about baseball being slow, is the constant interruptions of action. Mound visits. Batters stepping out of the box. Pedro Baez contemplating life’s mysteries between pitches. And the proposed responses to that issue from the Commissioner’s office have been, frankly, stupid. Here are some of the dumber ones:

  • Limit defensive shifts, to reduce offense
  • Shrinking the strike zone, to reduce offense
  • Limiting the number of pitching changes in a game

These moves would either not have the desired effect (shrinking the strike zone would lead to more walks, which are boring) or would radically change the game (limiting the number of pitching changes would drastically change how the game is managed), or just make no sense (whattya got against shifts???) There have been some sensible proposals, such as a pitch clock, to keep the game moving. But other common sense solutions such as enforcing the requirement that hitters keep a foot in the box at all times, limiting mound visits from non-coaches, and cutting down on dead time between innings (gotta keep that ad revenue!) have not gotten much play.

It seems Major League Baseball is being run as well as Twitter.

Commission Manfred has his heart in the right place, and at least he is open to new ideas, even the stupid ones. But the focus needs to be in reducing dead time, not overall game time. Radically changing the nature of extra innings is not the way to do that.