If you spend much time around Royals Review you probably already know that there isn’t anyone here more pro-player than I am. Not that I’m a pro player, but that I support the players as much or more than anyone else. If the Royals face off against Mike Moustakas you better believe that I’ll be hoping he hits three home runs in a Royals win, but I’d probably take the dingers over the win if push came to shove.
This, of course, also extends to issues of labor. The new CBA is done. It’s a wonderful thing! The players didn’t do as well in the negotiations as I would have liked, but also not as poorly as I had feared. Still. there is one area of the negotiations in which the players were forced to concede ground that makes me happy.
MLB successfully negotiated to reduce the wait time of the implementation of new rules down from one year to 45 days. This is a win for the sport of baseball and for the fans of baseball, even if they don’t know it.
Baseball is an old sport, steeped in tradition. There’s value in that tradition, yes, but one thing that separates its biggest competitors - the NFL and the NBA - from MLB is their willingness to make drastic rule changes as necessary to keep their sports interesting.
I understand there are some people who are happy about the extended length of an MLB game, but there is a reason the sport lags drastically behind the others in terms of the average age of its fans. Additionally, the sport has become more and more about the Three True Outcomes in recent years.
This only makes sense because the reality of the situation is that baseball in 2022 is not played the same way it was in 1970. Pitcher velocities are up and so is the movement on pitches. Hitters are stronger than ever. The value of a walk is better understood than ever. All of those things combine to mean that, all else being equal, it’s easier to hit a home run than before, you’re more likely to get paid for taking a walk than before, and with pitches being generally harder to hit, it’s harder to get multiple hits in a row which increases the value of a home run. Of course, the players will prioritize the things that help them win and help them get paid. The only way to change this behavior is to incentivize other behavior.
A pitch clock will speed up the game. It will also force pitchers to take less care with each individual pitch, which should reduce strikeout rates. With strikeout rates reduced, hitters should be able to put the ball in play more often. If the ball is in play more often, it becomes more vital to try and put the ball in play rather than giving up any hope of a single for an increased chance at a home run.
A ban on the shift would return the world to a scenario where groundballs didn’t have a similar out rate as strikeouts. That would also incentivize putting the ball in play and allow for players to stop swinging for the fences as their only way to contribute.
Larger bases would be safer for players and increase the chances a player would be safe when trying to steal or take an extra base on a hit. More action on the bases should make the game more exciting in the same way that incentivizing the pass in the NFL made that game more exciting.
Perhaps if we still had the same understanding of baseball that we had 50 years ago it would make sense to continue to play the game the same way we did 50 years ago. But we don’t, and because our understanding has changed, the strategies have changed to a style that’s less interesting but more likely to lead to a win. The only way to fix this is to make adjustments to the rules to incentivize different kinds of play. The players wanted those changes to take longer, so I’m just as happy they were forced to give in on that score to the owners. Hopefully, they will use this opportunity to improve the sport and make it more exciting for all of us.