Slaying the Pace-of-Play Monster, Plus Two Other Changes to Improve Baseball

Having now reached my first offseason with Cubs Insider, and in accordance with rule 4.21(B) of the baseball bloggers code of conduct, I am now required to write a piece on what I would change about baseball if could. I already covered why the NL should adopt designated hitter, but here are three more ideas.

Suspended players are ineligible to be traded for a season

One of the most distasteful baseball events of the past few years — at least for me — was the 2016 Aroldis Chapman saga. Chapman was investigated for allegedly choking his girlfriend and firing a gun to scare her. To avoid the PR stench, the Reds promptly traded him to the Yankees for pennies on the dollar (the Dodgers had previously agreed to a deal but backed out when allegations became public). The Yankees took the public relations hit, then flipped Chapman to the desperate Cubs for a much bigger haul. In my eyes, the Yankees engaged in the baseball equivalent of war profiteering.

The problem is one of group action. Any time a player is suspended for PEDs or domestic abuse or whatever, there is huge pressure to trade the offender away. Other teams are then put in a difficult position from a competitive standpoint. If they take a principled stand, they risk losing ground to less principled teams. And there will always be at least one such team out there. So let’s give GMs some cloud cover by prohibiting trades involving suspended players. Perhaps even allow such players to be outrighted to the minors for one year if the parent team desires. Do not force fans to choose between their teams and their morals.

Let pitcher and catcher use earpieces to call pitches

Accusations of sign-stealing were rampant this postseason. The NFL used to have a similar problem with plays called in from the sidelines, which they solved by giving the quarterback an earpiece and radioing in plays. The same technology could be used in baseball. Maybe the pitching coach calls the pitch from the dugout and the pitcher and catcher acknowledge receipt and agreement.

Or the catcher punches buttons into a device to relay a signal to the pitcher’s ear. Both reduce signing stealing and provide the added advantage of not needing wait for the batter to step into the box to relay signals, cutting down on dead time.

Robotic Strike Zones

We have reached the point that robotic strike zone systems can match, and perhaps outperform, human umpires. At the very least, robotic systems would be more consistent from both inning to inning and game to game. That alone is probably worth their implementation.

But my reasoning for the change goes further. Human umpires are unwilling to enforce Rule 8.04, which requires pitchers to deliver the ball within 12 seconds of receiving it. Umpires also fail to prohibit batters from stepping out of the box. Automated umpires will be far less forgiving, thereby cutting dead time between pitches that may account for 80 percent of the game time increase over the past 30 years.

That figure comes from a 2017 Grant Brisbee post on SB Nation in which he found two identical games played 30 years apart (1984 & 2014). The home team won by the same score (11-2), both games saw 270 pitches thrown, had 74 plate appearances and 27 baserunners, and both featured only a single mid-inning pitching change.

The 1984 game lasted 2 hrs 31 mins while the 2014 game lasted 35 minutes longer. Brisbee demonstrated that 25 of those minutes (80 percent of the increase) came from additional dead time between “inactive” pitches, namely those on which no contact was made and the ball was immediately returned to the pitcher (of which there were a virtually identical number). Anyone who claims that game-time bloat is the result of any other source is either misinformed or lying.

Robotic systems provide the perfect enforcers for the 12-second rule. They are uncaring and mechanical, their responses based only on their sensors. If the batter steps out after a non-swing, the system automatically charges a strike. If the system fails to record a pitch thrown after 15 seconds, a ball is automatically charged. Since all parties know this will happen and there is no human to whom players and managers can plead their case, habits will change quickly.

When was the last time you saw a basketball player yell at the shot clock?

On a related subject, I approve of the 2018 rules for automating intentional walks and limiting mound visits. Both were effective this season and neither created any problems. Mound visits create particularly obnoxious dead time that the new rule has reduced by half (a measurement based on my own unscientific observational data).

I strongly disagree, however, with starting extra innings with a man on second (as currently being discussed). I would rather address the time between pitches first. Thirty minutes of additional time from extra innings become far less of a problem if games only last 2:30 in the first place.

So there you have it, my the planks of my commissioner platform. Any other changes you’d make to improve the game?

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