Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Baseball's Attempt To Evolve

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There is no denying that the sport of baseball is once again at a crossroads. It’s not as bad of a situation that the steroid dilemma presented, but one baseball cannot afford to ignore. Since the steroid era, baseball has become more of a cult sport. If you were brought up on American’s pastime, typically by baseball ‘purists’, you have rode through the tough times and still love the game. But baseball has lost a lot of its casual fans, for a litany of reasons that have nothing to do with previous problems the game had. In today’s TV obsessed world, baseball is just not the best product anymore. The NFL, NBA and their collegiate affiliates just present a more fast-paced, action packed, entertainment. The charm baseball has always had just doesn’t attract to younger viewers like it used to. 

So now MLB is trying to capitalize on its young crop of talent, by adopting new rules to the game in an effort to make it more entertaining. It really is the foreword thinking the sport needs if its going to try and complete with the NBA or the NFL. But, the mistake baseball can make is if they are making changes to actually fix a problem, or just attempt to fix the problem. 

The MLB is presenting these new rules to be approved for the 2020 season. Some of them address the problem, while others are a mere attempt. If the the sport is going to have a reclamation, it may need to be a little more creative. But for now, here is what they are trying to do: 

  1. 3 Batter Requirement for Pitchers

The problem they are trying to fix: Speed up the game

What the rule means: Pitchers entering a game are now required to pitch to at least three consecutive batters. This will limit the amount of bullpen visits a manager can have to slow down the game. 

Is this a good idea? I do love the intent of the rule, but not so much the semantics. Strategy is part of the entertainment factor, and while we would love to see more hitting in the game, if a left-handed batter cannot hit a left-handed pitcher, than a manager should be allowed to make the switch for the situation. 

What baseball should do: Instead of have a requirement, how about a rule that says only three pitchers can pitch in one inning. One caveat could be that relievers entering the game are not allowed any warmup pitches. That way you limit commercial breaks, and are not wasting time to warm-up pitchers. Therefore it just a simply substitution. Every sport allows substitution, but only in baseball are players allowed to “warm-up”. Take it out the warm-up, saves time and allows the strategy to stay in the game. 

  1. Universal DH

The problem they are trying to fix: Make the game more entertaining. 

What the rule means: The AL and NL would now both allow a designated hitter. 

Is this a good idea? Absolutely. The game is more entertaining when the offense and pitching is equal. In today’s game that is not the case, as pitching is dominating and batting averages are lower than ever. Adding a DH increases job opportunities across the sport, and allows for a more entertaining product on the field. Yes there is strategy in pitchers trying to hit, but that is just a substitute for the fact that pitchers can’t hit. Would you rather see somebody flail away in the oft chance he will connect for a hit, or would you rather see a .250 hitter with 30 homer potential take his swings? If you think baseball fans will be upset when they implement this rule, think about how upset fans would be if they took the DH away all together. 

What baseball should do: Implement the rule right now. 

  1. A single trade deadline, one week before the All-Star break

The problem they are trying to fix: Increase activity in the offseason.

What the rule means: Instead of having the trade deadline be on July 31st, baseball would move up its deadline to the week before the All-Star game in late June or early July. 

Is this a good idea? No it is not. This is nothing more than an effort to try an encourage teams to spend money in the offseason and increase activity throughout the sport. It is wasted effort. Teams are not spending this winter because the deadline is too late in the year. They are doing it because now they are dictating the market as opposed to the players true value. If anything, I see this having the opposite effect in the sport. If the deadline is sooner, than teams that want to ‘tank’ will do so much earlier in the season to solidify their last place statuses, to secure a high draft pick. If the ‘Dog Days of Summer’ plague the sport, particularly in the ratings, than pushing up the deadline would only deepen that problem. 

What baseball should do? Think again. There is a deep-rooted problem right now, and the lack of offseason activity could lead the sport into another strike. Merely attempting to fix the problem will not be enough, and not entice stingy owners to open their wallets. Baseball is going to have to get creative. This is not it. 

  1. A 20 second pitch clock

The problem they are trying to fix: Speed up the game

What the rule means? Pitchers will no longer be able to take their time on the mound. By doing so there will be a better flow to the game, and less downtime. 

Is this a good idea? In theory. There is a lot of downtime created by both the pitcher, and the batter, and this rule does not address the hitter’s role in this problem. Also, there is a great deal of drama, especially in big games, in this ‘downtime’. Watch any great moment in a playoff or World Series game, there is drama and intrigue in those tense moments when a pitcher steps off of the mound, or the batter steps out of the box. While I agree with the intent of the rule, we have to see how it will be implemented before we can judge it. 

What baseball should do? Implement the rule in the regular season. Don’t implement it in the postseason. That way the regular season product can be more action packed and the more pure form of the game can exist when the games matter most. 

Other rules MLB is considering:
  1. Expansion of rosters
Reaction: There would be a maximum number of pitchers on a team, which would pave the way for teams to covet two-way talent. The hitter that can pitch, or the pitcher that can hit. 

  1. Draft Advantages for winning teams and penalties for losing teams
Reaction: I like the idea of punishing losing teams with the idea that it will be an incentive for losing teams to try harder to compete. I just don’t think that will happen. 

  1. A study to lower the mound
Reaction: I am not sure why baseball keeps circling back around to this every 20-30 years? In the 1960s they raised the mound and pitching got out of hand once again. Hopefully this study will actually determine the appropriate height so baseball can finally just leave the mound alone. 

  1. New rules to allow two-sport athletes to sign Major League contracts. 
Reaction: Why does baseball not have this already? If Kyler Murray could have found a way to play both, it would have gone a long way in helping the sport. But now Murray is going to be a star in the NFL, and the chances of coming back to baseball seem slim. 

Baseball is going in the right direction because now they are recognizing that the sport needs to evolve. All sports evolve, and baseball is not immune to it. While these rules are not perfect, and some of them may not have much of a shelf life, but they are trying. No change is easy, but it necessary. Baseball is starting to realize that. 

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