A list of purported MLB rule change proposals made the rounds Wednesday on the baseball twitterverse. The one that is fairly getting the most attention is the universal DH. The lines have long been drawn on this issue and I understand the majority no longer agrees with my position that the DH is an abomination which creates a specialization where one need not exist. Thus, I will not seek to change hearts and minds on that issue here. The leagues regularly play each other these days and should do so under one set of rules, and given the direction of milb and college, it’s inevitable that MLB makes it league-wide. The player union has wanted it for years to prolong the careers of more sluggers that can no longer field a position (in other words, still play the entire game). I say the league should at last make that concession starting in 2020 in exchange for something that matters so much more for the health of baseball – the abolition of the mind-numbing treadmill of loogys and occasional roogys.
It’s not that I have anything against the one-batter-only type pitchers. I admire not only their ability to find multi-million dollar-paying professional athlete jobs despite being more limited in their contribution to the game than punters. I also admire the innovative spirit of the managers and front offices that began exploiting their bullpens 20 years ago or so to gain big advantages in high leverage situations. As always, what seems obvious today was once cutting-edge. Unfortunately, that cutting-edge that was once advantageous for teams has become standard practice for all teams, and is now a serious disadvantage for baseball fans. Time to fix it.
Here’s how it works. You bring a relief pitcher into the baseball game, he stays for 3 batters regardless of the outcome or the matchups. Simple. If he gives up back to back homers, he still faces the 3rd guy. If he’s incapable of facing 3 guys, maybe he’s not worth a spot on the roster. Throw a dart at some failed hard-throwing starter and make him a reliever and he should be good for 3 outs at a time. There are other inevitable protestations and concerns about work-arounds, like “What happens when a guy fakes an injury to get off the mound after a rocky start?” Glad you asked, skeptical voice in my head! Any reliever leaving before facing the 3rd batter is automatically placed on the team’s 10-day DL. Boom, problem solved.
It’s not just the ease of implementation which is encouraging here, it’s the cascade of positive consequences that’ll flow throughout the game. What’s been the number one complaint of fans and concern of the league for several years now? It’s the pace of the game. Nothing, not even an interminable Nomar/Jeter/other Yankee/Sox Prima Donna stepping out of the box to prance through a 5 minute choreographed routine, slows down a game more than an inning with multiple pitching changes. Leadoff walk. Call to the bullpen. Cut to commercial. Strikeout. Bring in the lefty. Geico-time. Lefty gets a weak ground ball. Bring in the righty. Now some Dilly Dilly. Back to live action, 30 minutes into an inning that’s seen one baserunner, no balls in play and 60% of the viewership fall asleep or switch over to an 80th viewing of LOTR on TNT.
The game is in desperate need not just of better flow but also more action. This change does both. Fewer same-handed matchups means fewer strikeouts. Fewer strikeouts means more balls in play. So not only do we get fewer pitching changes and less dead time, the live-action time has more ACTUAL action. K’s are great, but doubles and triples and web gems are all quite pleasing too, and I imagine potential youngsters are more likely to be entertained by athletes diving for balls and sprinting around the bases than watching a procession of walking to and from the dugout.
One of the criticisms I’ve seen of the rule is how it were to adversely affect managerial strategy. Right now, bringing in a loogy to face a single LH batter isn’t some masterstroke of strategy, it’s more like paint by numbers. But imagine a manager bringing in a reliever in a tight spot with nobody out to face a lefty in the heart of the order, but 2 spots down is a lefty masher. The decision-making will potentially be far more difficult than it is now.
Baseball is resistant to change, not in small part because the viewership skews older than the other sports. So I’m sure there will be quite a bit of push-back to such a significant rule change. My guess though, is within a couple of months of the 3-batter minimum rule being implemented, the improvement in the game will be so obvious that even the biggest curmudgeon will begrudgingly admit that it’s something that should’ve been implemented years ago. I believe outside allowing fans to actually watch the game instead of constantly blacking it out over huge geographic territories, this is the most impactful step MLB can take to improve the sport. Bring. It. On.