Thursday, March 27, 2003
Hack Alert!: Speeding Up the Game
Since nothing is troubling me in the world of baseball right now, but I feel it is my duty to write something about it to satisfy customers from Baseball Musings, I'll pull out a stock issue: speeding up the game. We'll start on the pitcher's side of the equation for now.
I've never seen this rule enforced in my lifetime that I can recall. (1970 for those of you scoring at home.) However, there is talk of enforcing this rule against pitchers.
The most prominent argument I hear against the rule is its unenforcability. Even the best intentioned umpires will try to enforce it initially, then slowly let up. Differential application of the rules, both within umpires (i.e., game to game by Umpire X) and across umpires (i.e., game to game between Umpires X and Y), make enforcement unfair, in the sense of inconsistent. You hockey fans have seen this all year with the obstruction rules.
My first question is, why not take the responsibility for monitoring this rule out of the hands of the head umpire, but give him the power to enforce it. What the hell does that mean? In every major sport, umpires are aided either by technical devices (e.g., the 24-second shot clock) or non-game assistants (e.g., shot clock operators) or officials (e.g., the goal judge in hockey). In all of these situations, the referee has the power to enforce the rules. However, the duty of monitoring the rule is shared outside of the crew.
So, in the case of baseball, one way to enforce the rule and achieve consistency is to create an external force. The umpires union is one source of resistance. Sandy Alderson is doing his part to standardize umpire performance, so it may be possible to get by the union. Alternatively, one way to gain the union's support is to create an extra job per game for the union might earn their support. Since this is a game rule, I'm not sure whether the players' union has any say. They'd no doubt have an opinion. I would expect that in the next ten years you'll see baseball come into the 20th century and rely on at least some outside assistance, mechanical or human, for umpires.
My second question is: if it were systematically enforced, would this change baseball statistics? Would we count pitched and non-pitched balls? My guess is pitchers would learn pretty quickly given the penalty, so it may be moot.
Bigger than all that though, is whether this is all that big of a deal since the rule only applies with no runners on base. Texas will be lucky if starts its games with no runners on base. I'm not aware of any data on the average time to pitch for players, but I don't imagine that the the number of pitches per game above :20 is that high. Even then, it's probably not way over :20, so the amount of time saved is likely to be very small. (Your homework will be to report in with your own time counts for some upcoming games.) For the game to speed up, I think you'd have to hope that pitchers who routinely take :15-:19 seconds get worried about the penalty and speed up on every pitch. Otherwise, I don't think there's much room to squeeze here.
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