Chicago Cubs: MLB rule changes could be coming

Sep 19, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) argues with umpire Bruce Dreckman (1) and umpire Tom Hallion (20) at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 19, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) argues with umpire Bruce Dreckman (1) and umpire Tom Hallion (20) at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

The Rules of the Game could be changing again according to sources following the meeting of the competition committee at the owner’s meeting. Did the Chicago Cubs series against the Nationals provoke some of these changes?

The competition committee met at Major League Baseball’s owners meetings this week, and according to Jayson Stark of ESPN, we could be seeing some rule changes implemented as soon as next season.

The first big change would see the bottom of the strike zone raised to the top of the hitter’s kneecaps.  Current rules specify that the bottom of the strike zone reaches down beneath a hitter’s kneecap.  This comes as a response to hitters striking out looking on low pitches, as MLB would like to see more balls hit into play.

The next rule change would eliminate the need for a pitcher to throw four consecutive balls when intentionally walking a batter.  The team would be able to simply signify that they would like to issue an intentional walk and the batter would be given first base.

Recent and future rule changes are by and large an attempt to quicken the pace of play in an MLB game.  According to Baseball Prospectus, the average length of a Major League baseball game in 2015 was two hours and 56 minutes.  MLB would like to shorten it even more as they attempt to gain viewership from a younger demographic.

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While I do agree that the game could, and maybe should be shortened, this is the wrong way to go about it.  MLB’s concerns are in all the wrong places.

Let me start by saying this.  I can’t  remember the last time I watched an NFL or NBA game on television that lasted less than three hours.  I don’t recall hearing any complaints about their pace of play.  So why is Major League Baseball under such scrutiny?

One can’t help but wonder if the proposed intentional walk rule change has emerged in the wake of the Cubs vs. Nationals series earlier this month.  The Chicago Cubs walked Bryce Harper a whopping thirteen times, many of them intentional walks.  Naturally, the media had a field day with this, stating that MLB has an “intentional walk problem.”

To this I ask you, is this really a Major League Baseball problem?  Or could this perhaps have been a Washington Nationals problem?  The Chicago Cubs would not have felt obligated to walk Harper if they thought there was a good chance the next guy in the order would get a hit.  Rather than put a red-hot Daniel Murphy in the four-spot after Harper, the Nationals instead elected to use a struggling Ryan Zimmerman.  All series long.  You tell me who’s at fault.

Let’s take a look at some numbers.  According to Baseball-Reference, the average number of intentional walks issued per game is 0.3.   An MLB team generally plays six times each week and using the pace of play numbers from 2015, that makes about 696 minutes of baseball per week for a team.  Let’s say that the act of issuing an intentional walk takes about 90 seconds, give or take a few seconds.  This means that MLB would shave a measly 2.7 minutes off of play per week.

So, MLB would effectively be shortening weekly play from 696 minutes down to 693.3 minutes.  Congratulations, MLB.  Mission accomplished.  I now have time to brush my teeth before bed.

MLB games have been reasonably shorter before, and that’s with mostly the same rules we have now.  So what happened?

If you want my opinion, maybe batters shouldn’t step out of the box after every single pitch to re-adjust every single piece of equipment they are wearing.  We see it even after batters take a ball.  Why do your batting gloves need to be re-adjusted after watching a ball go by?

Bottom line: batters need to be ready to hit, pitchers need to be ready to pitch.

The game could be shortened, but MLB is not getting to the actual root of the problem.  Do I really care about seeing four balls thrown in an intentional walk?  No, but if games were shorter with the same rules in place, logic would tell you that the rules aren’t the issue.

Even crazier is the idea that MLB games should be shortened to a paltry two hours.

Some may not like hearing this, but baseball is arguably more of an intellectual game than, say football or basketball.  The flow of those games is generally quick and constant, save for huddles in football (though we’re seeing less of those recently).

Baseball is structured differently, and that’s okay.  It was always supposed to be that way.  Baseball is a beautiful game, and I’d hate to see it become something else entirely just to shave a few minutes off of the run time.

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We’re not there yet, but with all the current commotion, we could be heading that way.  If baseball was suddenly shortened to two hours by tomorrow, would we see a substantial uptick in viewership?

Maybe, maybe not, but is it worth it to transform America’s pastime into something completely different just to appease those who never cared about baseball to begin with?

I could go on and write more, but I’d hate for the reader to have to spend too much time reading this.  If you’re one of those that think baseball games last too long, you probably didn’t make it this far in the article anyway.