I’m not sure why, but it seems that there has been a lot of talk regarding rule changes this year. In an interview with Chris Young yesterday, Rob Neyer stated he would like to do the following.
I would outlaw the intentional walk. I would shorten the season by two weeks, by shortening the schedule to 154 games and scheduling five or six doubleheaders per team. I would — and this is something Bill James has been recommending for years — standardize and supply the bats. I would shorten the time between half-innings by 30 seconds. I would order the umpires to enforce the rules prohibiting fielders from blocking bases (including home plate) [Ed. note: This was days before Albert Pujols cleaned out Josh Bard]. I would do whatever I could to lower the number of pitching changes. Oh, and I would set a maximum decibel level for ballpark sound systems that would result in a great deal less noise than we hear now. (Yes, I know… Hey, you stupid kids! Get out of my yard!)
There is nothing unique or unreasonably about the items on the list, I just want to use one of his suggestions as a foil. As the title to this post indicates, I love the intentional walk. One of the most beautiful aspects of baseball is that the defense is the first mover before each play. In most other sports, the team/person attempting to score is the first mover. In football, the offense calls the play. In basketball, hockey, and soccer (which are all really variants of the same game) the player possessing the ball/puck makes the decision of how to move the scoring item. In tennis, the server decides how hard and where to hit the ball. In baseball, the hitter must respond to what the pitching team gives him.
The intentional walk is an interesting strategy that allows the opposition to obtain an outcome that the defense typically tries to prevent. When the free pass happens, it is interesting from strategic and competitive perspective. Is walking the opposing hitter a good idea? In most situations it’s a bad idea. But if it turns on a force-out, avoids a good hitter, or changes the platoon advantage it can be a smart move. Whether or not the decision is a good one is fun to discuss.
The effect on the egos of competitive men should not be overlooked. “I’d rather pitch to you than the guy in front of you” thinks the pitcher. “You’re walking him to pitch to me?” thinks the batter. Echoing The Godfather, this may seem like business, but when you get down to it this is personal.
Yeah, the intentional walk often does take the bat out of a good hitter, whom I would like to see hit. But to me, that is part of the game. Does it slow the game down? A little, but so does the third base coach calling time to talk to the batter about the signs, or the pitching coach strolling out to the mound to tell his pitcher to throw strikes. Until moments like these are gone, we shouldn’t include intentional walks in the speed-up-the-game discussion.
In summary, I ♥ the IBB.