x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Baseball and MLB need to pick up the pace of play

Rules are in place to hasten games, they just need to be implemented, writes Paul Freelend.

The New York Mets’ Daisuke Matsuzaka has averaged 25.2 seconds between pitches. Jim McIsaac / Getty Images
The New York Mets’ Daisuke Matsuzaka has averaged 25.2 seconds between pitches. Jim McIsaac / Getty Images

In a sport where consensus can be as hard to find as a power-hitting second baseman, one of the few things on which most people can agree is that games take too long.

This season, games have lasted an average of three hours and eight minutes, almost 15 minutes longer than in 2010. Unlike in the late 1990s and early 2000s, this extra length has not come with a corresponding jump in scoring. These extra minutes are unlikely to bring the oft-forecast death of baseball, but neither do they do the game any favours.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect is that baseball is already equipped with the tools to deal with this issue. No gimmicks, no radical shifts – just enforce the rules already on the books, specifically Rule 6.02 (B) and Rule 8.04.

The former reads: “The batter leaves the batter’s box at the risk of having a strike delivered and called, unless he requests the umpire to call ‘Time’. The batter is not at liberty to step in and out of the batter’s box at will.”

Enforcing this will end the frustration of human rain delays such as former Major Leaguers Mike Hargrove and Nomar Garciaparra.

The latter rule reads: “When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call ‘Ball’.”

This season, pitchers take an average of 23 seconds between pitches, almost double the allowed time.

If baseball wanted to, a five-pitch at-bat with no one on base could be done in about a minute. What is more, there is evidence these measures can work. The Arizona Fall League employed “speed-up” rules in 1992 and cut a minute from breaks between half-innings, trimming the average game length to 2:24. Even allowing for commercial breaks, Major League Baseball games would average 2:42 if they enforced these rules.

It is worth asking, then, if the game’s caretakers actually want things to move faster. Fewer pauses would leave less time for sponsored reads and graphics, and think of the food, drink and souvenir sales team would lose if games were 20 minutes shorter.

All it would take to shorten games and revitalise baseball is one e-mail from MLB commissioner Bud Selig.

Well, that and a massive refund cheque to TV companies for those lost minutes.

pfreelend@thenational.ae