Speeding up the Game: A New Reliever Rule coming to MLB?

Updated: October 17, 2016

The calls to speed up the game of baseball are mostly misplaced. Baseball is an art form. Baseball is a chess match. Pitchers and batters battle each other night in and night out, matching wits and skill. Managers attempt to outsmart each other, each one trying to move a step ahead.

Every defensive shift, pitching change, pinch hitter, and pinch runner is magnified, especially in the playoffs. Baseball is all about timing and rhythm. Baseball moves at a deliberate pace naturally, it will never be as fast paced as football or basketball.

There are areas, however, where the game’s timing and flow can be improved. ESPN’s David Schoenfield tweeted  about a rule he’d like to see implemented; relief pitchers having to face at least two batters when called upon, unless the inning ends. I think this is a great idea, and wholeheartedly embrace it! In fact, I would go a step further and require the pitcher to face a minimum of three batters. This would fix a lot of the issues in baseball today. Let’s break down this idea a bit more, and the effects it could have.

1.) Quickening the Pace – Baseball has implemented a few rules, such as a pitch clock, forcing a batter to keep one foot in the box, and limiting mound visits. The one thing that slows down a game more than anything, though, is pitching changes.

With teams carrying as many as twelve to fourteen pitchers, there’s a pitcher for every situation, and enough pitchers to use three or four in one inning. Take the seventh inning of game five in the Dodgers and Nationals series, a game that lasted almost five hours. Five hours! That seventh inning took over an hour to play, and included seven pitchers, four of which didn’t even record an out. Multiple pitching changes in an inning slow the game to a crawl, and limiting those changes would speed up the game immensely.

2.) Better Pitchers – Calling upon a reliever specialist to gain the platoon advantage makes sense, but you know what makes more sense? Having better pitchers. Pitchers capable of getting anyone out from either side of the plate.

Forcing relief pitchers to face a minimum of two batters per appearance would force teams to move away from specialists with vast platoon splits and attempt to gather pitchers capable of getting anyone out.

Teams would also most likely attempt to have relief pitchers capable of pitching more innings per appearance; pitchers with more even platoon splits are also generally capable of pitching more innings, and if you’re forced to leave a pitcher in for two or even three batters minimum, you may as well attempt to fill your bullpen with pitchers capable of pitching more innings when needed. Having better quality relievers capable of pitching multiple innings would add to the overall quality of the game, but even though the pitchers might be better it would also have an additional effect:

3.) More Offense – Adding pitchers capable of pitching more innings would also lead to teams needing to carry less pitchers. Not by a lot, but instead of carrying a thirteen man pitching staff, maybe you only carry an eleven man pitching staff.

Those two extra spots could then be used on position players, giving you more and potentially better options later in games. While the quality of pitchers might go up, the overall benefit would go to the batters later in games. Giving the batter the platoon advantage more often might not offer up massively different results, but it could create more offense later in games, creating more come back wins, more drama, and more excitement.

4.) The Bottom Line – Making this seemingly small change would have positive results on a lot of fronts; less pitching changes would speed up the pace of the game, boost offense, and add more excitement. Managers would still need to exercise strategy, even more so knowing when you put a reliever in he needs to get the next two to three batters out, and would still give us plenty of manager decisions to second guess later. Schoenfield is on the right track with this idea; here’s hoping it gains some traction.

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