Simple Rules to Speed Up the Game

I have heard a good deal of chatter lately about rule changes for improving baseball. Stephen Dubner has a post on it at Freaknomics, and the comments reflect a common complaint about the way the game is played: it’s too long. I have never minded the pace of the game, but I admit things can get slow. I dare you to try and watch a Tivoed game without hitting the fast-forward button for anything but commercials.

I’ve seen numerous suggestions to speed up the game, and I think that many of them alter the play of the game in a way that I find unsatisfactory. Making players stay in the box between pitches, putting a time-limit on pitchers, limiting pitching changes, disallowing intentional walks or pickoff throws, etc. tamper with the game in a way that I don’t like. I’m not saying that baseball shouldn’t consider some of these options, but I think there are other areas where baseball could speed things up before changing rules that more directly impact the play of the game.

Here are my suggestions:

— Eliminate the eight-pitch warm-up for pitchers. When you step on the mound, start pitching. Warm up in the bullpen and play the game on the field. This changes the game by forcing managers to call the bullpen earlier (gasp!). This allows managers to make as many pitching changes as they want, but it speeds up the transition. The strategy involved in choosing relievers and pitch hitters is an enjoyable part of the game.

— Eliminate all arguing. Basketball and football don’t seem to have a problem with players and coaches arguing with referees. Yes, players and coaches complain in these sports, but it’s largely within the flow of the game. Arguments are quick, and the game continues. Those who carry on for more than a few seconds are tossed in basketball. In football, arguments rarely seem to happen. Umpires shouldn’t put up with it. If you don’t like the call, tough. If you keep barking about it, you’re gone. Managers and players who remain on the field after they have been tossed will receive suspensions and fines. Is it fun to watch arguments? A little, but I’d give it up to speed the game along. Legitimate problems with the umpires can be handled off the field by a review process.

— Eliminate unlimited time-outs. I have never understood why players and managers have all of these signs if they can just yell “time” and walk over to each other and say what they want to say. Give teams three time-outs or none—I prefer the latter—and put those signs to use. Do you really need to talk to your pitcher to see if he’s tired? Why not have an “I’m tired” signal? Are the pitcher and catcher confused about the signs? That’s their problem. I have a feeling players can adjust to this quickly.

There you have my simple rule changes. I can’t say how much time they would shave off the game, but at least these minimally interfere with how the game is played on the field. If you want to argue that all of these things are part of the game, then don’t complain about the game taking so long. I really don’t mind the length of the game. I would like to see these rule-changes implemented before baseball takes more drastic measures.

10 Responses “Simple Rules to Speed Up the Game”

  1. Ron says:

    Few comments:
    1. I don’t see how the following has an undesirable impact on the game or strategy: Making players stay in the box between pitches, putting a time-limit on pitchers. Why don’t you like them?
    2. Eliminating (or limiting) arguing and time-outs seems reasonable, but I would say they have more strategic influence than those items in number 1.
    3. Eliminating the 8-pitch warm-up is a fine idea, but if you do then the pitcher is just going to be standing there while he waits for TV to come back from commercial. You don’t really think MLB is going to speed up the game by eliminating commercials, do you??

    IMO, eliminating commercials would cause the least disruption to the rules/stategies of the game and speed it up more than most other ideas I’ve heard. Of course, it could never happen…

  2. Zach says:

    My only comment is this, seeing as how we are looking for rule changes that would cause more people to watch baseball by making it move quicker, I don’t see how eliminating arguments will help that. It will speed up the game, yes, but I kind of like the arguments, they add an entertainment value and would only decrease viewership if they were eliminated.

  3. Sam says:

    Major League would not have been as funny if it was filmed under your rules, though.

  4. K-Funk says:

    Arguing doesn’t take up too much time, and it’s fun to watch.

    Here’s my suggestions:

    Limit of 1 pitching change per inning, barring injury. (Yes, this would have a huge impact on strategy.)

    Limit of 2 or 3 pickoff throws.

    Make batters stay in the box.

    Start every hitter with a 1-1 count. (OK, this will never happen, but if we were inventing the game of baseball today, I doubt we would allow 4 balls and 3 strikes.)

  5. Ken Houghton says:

    I think there’s a general misconception here (and part of it is the, er, obsessive nature of this audience).

    You have to get people watching the bleeding game in the first place–on television. What baseball shares with hockey is that both sports are far better live than on television. (American football, patently, is not.)

    But THAT’S NOT BECAUSE THE GAME IS TOO SLOW–if anything, it’s too fast.

    I’ll give you odds that if you regress the total start-to-finish time of a baseball game against the time spent on commercials (Ron’s #3 is spot-on; when was the last time you saw more than two start-of-half-of-an-inning warmup pitches broadcast?), the National League will be close to exact. (The American has that Offensive Addition that also has been adding to game times–getting rid of that would shorten games. Good idea, though? Probably not.)

    You need to make up for the inability to understand the game with more explanation, aimed at the casual fan, on what is happening and why. (John Madden’s post-play diagrams do this in football. Baseball has no equivalent: “Well, Jeter was shading to his right on that off-speed pitch to the lefty, who put it right where he would have been if he could field.”)

    Give it better direction, show some more of how the game really is a team sport, and people will pay attention. Spend some time: explain, for instance, that the Infield Fly Rule is there to help the team at bat. Discuss why a team will run on Junior’s arm more than Adam Dunn’s (or vice versa). Explain why a 95 MPH fastball and a 92 MPH curve aren’t necessarily as good a combination as 95/88.

    USE the time, and no one will miss it.

    Of course, I doubt anyone who would TiVo a game in the first place would fast-forward through at-bats if it were, say, Fred Toney and Jim Vaughan Redux.

    But if you want to catch more viewers, you need to make it more interesting, not “faster.” That way lies hockey, which is now playing on cable–and not necessarily even basic cable at that.

  6. Greyson says:

    The only rule change I’d like to speed up the game is to get rid of the DH, but the Player’s Union isn’t gonna give that up easy.

    So what’s the best thing to speed up the game? Maybe if we actually taught youngsters defensive fundamentals instead of obsessing about homeruns, and taught our pitchers control and location instead of glamorizing the strikeout.

  7. Phil Steinmeyer says:

    General thoughts on baseball’s length AND appeal…

    I would assume that much of the additional length added to the average game has been due to commercials. Commercials are a short term revenue fix, but over the longer term, they make the game less appealing both on TV and at the stadium. Cut commercials to 90 seconds per half inning and I think baseball might come out ahead over the long run. Ratings would slowly increase, or stop decreasing so fast, and baseball could also charge more per commercial not simply for the higher ratings, but also because each commercial would have more impact in a less cluttered environment.

    Pitcher changes could be easily addressed. Either institute rules to reduce the number of changes, or the time per change (as others have suggested).

    In terms of presentation, broadcasters should make more effort to teach the differences in pitches, and pitch movement, to viewers. I’ve seen some of this lately, but as someone who never pitched or hit in competitive levels beyond little league, I’d like graphics that help teach me about the difference between a slider, a cutter, a curve, a sinker and so on.

    The camera should be positioned for a more direct view of the batter. Often, from the angle you see things on TV, it’s difficult to tell whether pitches are inside or outside (though high and low are usually reasonably clear).

  8. Brian Mills says:

    I agree with Ron on this one. I don’t foresee any problems with requiring batters to keep one foot in the box. Last year the Minor League Umpires were told that they must enforce this rule at all levels (even though it has been a rule, at least in the minors, for a while now). If you step out of the box, that’s a strike. Of course, it has resulted in some arguing and a few ejections, but that is bound to happen. Once it is known to be enforced, guys will stay in the box. The rules are the same in high school and college and they do not interfere with the game.

    I also like Ken’s idea to try and get people more interested in the game. When I hear someone say ‘I don’t like baseball it’s so boring’, I feel they think this because they don’t really see everything going on out there that you or I see (I feel this way with hockey, I can’t stand it). Last year the league had some Jumbotron videos displaying a certain ‘play’ and professional umpires making a call, then explaining the rules and why the call was made. Only a few stadiums picked this up for their stadium screens (I believe the Nationals were one). I really feel like something like this on a broadcast would help people understand what they may be missing in the game.

  9. Erik says:

    I don’t see how eliminating warm-up pitches makes managers go the pen earlier. If anything, it would extend it in most cases. A pitcher who can’t throw a strike (Fausto Carmona comes to mind) won’t fix it with 8 pitches in between innings…Eliminating warm-up pitches would give pitch counts more meaning

  10. Greyson says:

    2 more things that came to my mind today about eliminating warm-up pitches:

    1st, theoretically if it did speed up the game enough to bring more interest you could offset the lost revenue for commercials with increasing revenue for in-game ads.

    2nd, and more importantly, it would NEVER happen, because there are just too many inherent problems. Every mound is different, and most change shape and feel throughout a season or even a day, and those 8 pitches are designed to give the pitcher the feel of that particular mound. Eliminating them will only end up with less control, and more injuries.