It seems as though every time MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is in front of a microphone he’s talking about changing baseball.
To an outsider, you’d think the game – which made $10.3 billion in revenue in 2018 – was on life support, about to be steamrolled into irrelevancy by the other major professional North American sports.
Sure, TV ratings are down and game attendance has dropped to the lowest numbers since 2002, but does America’s pastime really need to make drastic changes?
I asked some local baseball players for their opinions on potential rule changes.
The Minor Leagues have been experimenting with 20 and 15-second pitch clocks since 2015. This year, Major Leaguers are averaging 24.3 seconds between pitches, up from 23.5 last season. Do you think the Majors should implement a pitch clock?
Eau Claire Express’ Tanner Kohlhepp: “I think it’s necessary because there are some guys who take forever on the mound. ... It’s fun to play behind a guy who has a rhythm going.”
Fall Creek’s Marcus Cline: “I would be open to a little one, like 15 seconds.”
Chippewa Falls’ Nate Hayes: “In between pitches it can be a little boring and long. It would speed up the game a little bit without cutting the innings or anything.”
The Atlantic League is testing a rule that would allow hitters to “steal first” on any dropped pitch, instead of just strike three. Do you think it should be implemented in the Big Leagues?
Kohlhepp: “I’m not a fan of that. As a pitcher, sometimes you might want to throw a pitch in the dirt to a guy and your catcher has to block it. It kind of takes away from that part of the game. And I hate the dropped third strike rule too. If you make a pitch and the batter swings at it and it hits the dirt, he shouldn’t be rewarded by taking first base.”
Eau Claire Express’ Jack Brown: “As a pitcher, I’m not a fan.”
Eau Claire Legion’s Ethan Kjellberg: “I don’t like it. It’s just an excuse for guys who strike out too much or can’t hit. It gives them an excuse to get on base.”
Hayes: “Sometimes a ball gets away from a pitcher. ... It’s not human to hit the catcher’s mitt every time.”
Would you be in favor of robo-umpires for balls and strikes?
Eau Claire North’s Carter Hesselman: “I don’t know about that. If a pitcher is pounding the corners and there’s a pitch that is two inches off the plate or whatever, and the robo-ump doesn’t give it, I think there needs to be some leniency there. I think the human umps are fine.”
Kjellberg: “I’m iffy on it. I think it could be good if they want to do a review, but they should keep normal umps. I’d like umps still, but they could do a challenge thing.”
Brown: “I think that’s just going to kill the game.”
Should there be a three-batter minimum for relief pitchers?
Eau Claire Express’ Zach Gilles: “Some pitchers are just meant to face lefties. ... If you make it so that they have to face three batters, it kind of puts them out of a job or they have to get better against righties too. I think the way it’s played right now with a lefty specialist, I think that’s fine.”
Hesselman: “I think that a three batter minimum would be great.”
Would you outlaw the shift?
Kohlhepp: “I like the shift because there’s data that shows that these are tendencies. So as a pitcher, you want to attack the tendencies. ... If a hitter is going to hit 75% of his balls to the right side of the infield, why not put three guys over there? If he beats the shift, then whatever. I’d rather play the numbers.”
Kjellberg: “I think it’s nice. You have to be able to hit to any part of the field to be a pro.”
Hayes: “I like the shift. It’s just part of the game. If a guy can’t hit opposite field, why not shift?”
A mercy rule?
Hayes made a dramatic suggestion for MLB to implement: A mercy rule. To traditionalists, it might seem blasphemous not to play nine innings, but if a team is up 10 runs after the seventh, do we really need to play the rest of the game? Did we really need to see three-hours and 21 minutes of baseball on August 22, 2007, when the Texas Rangers demolished the Baltimore Orioles 30-3? Hayes doesn’t think so.
Frankly, the statistics show he’s probably right. There have only been two 10-run comebacks after the seventh inning in MLB since 1925, according to Baseball-Reference. The Philadelphia Athletics rallied for 13 runs in the bottom of the eighth to overcome an 11-run deficit to the Cleveland Indians on June 15, 1925, and the Los Angeles Dodgers squandered a 10-run eighth-inning lead to the Philadelphia Phillies on August 21, 1990.