As we get ready to ramp up into spring training games, and all our thoughts about "this guy's slider looks flat," and "I don't like his new stance," and watch some young go-hard come up with eight homers against guys who'll be holding a squeegee soon, one thing that will be discussed is baseball's new pace of play initiatives.
The big one is that a team will only be "allowed" six mound-visits per nine innings. This is the in the same way a team is only "allowed" one challenge per game, except after the 7th you can request, which isn't the same thing apparently and no please don't ask why it's different it just is and that's final, ok? Umpires will have the discretion to allow more mound visits, which is going to end in a hilarious stare-down at some point between Willson Contreras and like, Joe West and I hope it involves West trying to physically stop Contreras from going out there. And then Willson will be forced to yell what he wants the pitcher to throw while covering his mouth with his glove. It's going to be glorious.
There are some other things of course. They're going to try and start the between-inning clock a little earlier, getting hitters into the box, and replay tweaks. I suppose this is all well and good except it just gets around the edges. And I don't think a pitch-clock would help much.
What baseball seems unwilling to do is to get more baseball into its games, if I can borrow a line from Joe Sheehan. I don't know that games really took all that long last year, and if MLB's hope is to get games back under two-and-a-half hours, I think that's probably forlorn hope. Really anything around three hours, just on either side, I think is fine with most fans.
Baseball's problem is that whatever length of time these games take, not much happens in them. With the strikeout-culture we have now, every AB goes four, five, six pitches as the hitters chase walks and the pitchers chase strikeouts. And then we get a lot of homers, which doesn't provide much chance to get outs on the bases. It lessens double plays and caught-stealings and the like.
Baseball is worried about being a watch for the younger generations, and that's a concern given what the average baseball fan looks like these days. But shortening the game isn't the answer. Speeding up time between pitches isn't really the answer either. It's that the perception is you're going to tune in and watch two guys playing catch. Hey, a big strikeout in the sixth or seventh with two on base and a one-run game is exciting. One to lead off the third isn't really.
What baseball needs is more plays, more chances for the athletes in the field to show you why they're athletes and not just glorified spectators waiting for their next AB. You want Lindor, Baez, Keirmaier, Bradley Jr., Trout, and whoever else covering ground in the field. Show the whole game.
To get that, it's the strike zone. Thinning it out to the corners again, and not the flat large pizza it's basically become, speeds up ABs. Hitters can get to more, pitchers have to get to them. Knowing that they can't simply duck and weave on the fringes, pitcher will have to get to contact more. You'll see ABs go from six and seven pitches to four and five. You'll cut 10-20 seconds off every AB or close to it. Imagine cutting 10-12 minutes off that way.
But until then. this is all window dressing. Though hey, I'm here for the delicious arguments it's going to start between stubborn players not wanting to change their ways and umps wanting to flex... well, flex something.