What if MLB’s season were only 16 games?

52 Comments

So, a couple of friends suggested to me that instead of making this a series of rule changes I would like to see (and will never happen), I should instead come up with “Five things that might make you think differently about baseball.” That does seem to make a bit more sense. My first rule change to cut out the soul-killing intentional walk in baseball. The second was not a rule change at all but a plea to make the minor leagues more autonomous and, in that way, bring real baseball to places all over America.

This rule change is not a rule change or a plea. It’s … well, I’m not sure what it is. I hope it’s interesting.

The other day, I was thinking about something that maybe you’ve thought about too: What would baseball be like if there were only 16 games in a season? I’ve often toyed around with that thought. I sometimes write columns when the baseball season is 16 games old. But I must admit I had never REALLY thought about how this would affect baseball. This time I did.

And I came to believe this: If a baseball season was just 16 games and structured like the NFL season — Major League Baseball would look A LOT like the NFL.

Here are six ways that MLB at 16 games would look like the NFL:

1. You would have one starting pitcher. He would be the focus of the team, not unlike the quarterback.

I’m not sure if any of these things are true, of course. They’re guesses. It is possible that if there were only 16 baseball games — one a week — that managers would not have starting pitchers as we know them now. They might have several pitchers with different roles. They might have three pitchers designed to go three innings.

But I can’t help but think, no, they would have one starter — maybe, on rare occasions, two starters — who would pitch every single week. This just makes the most sense to me. The quarterback comparison is too strong. I would say there are fewer than 30 GREAT pitchers in baseball right now, just like there are fewer than 30 GREAT quarterbacks in the NFL. There are teams who would have Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander and Adam Wainwright and Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez. They are Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and so on. Then there’s a tier of very good pitchers (Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish representing Joe Flacco and Cam Newton and so on) and you have your phenoms (Matt Harvey = RGIII; Stephen Strasburg as Andrew Luck). You would have your game managers. You would have your lousy starters too.

I think teams would take on the personality of their pitcher the way NFL teams take on the personality of their quarterback. You would have announcers saying that you can’t win without a great starter the way they say you can’t win without a great quarterback.

As far as the rest of the pitching staff goes, I envision a staff of five pitchers. You’d have a starter, his backup (and people would shout for the backup — another way it would be like the quarterback position) and then three others. One would probably be an emergency starter/reliever. The other two would specialists of some kind.

I’m sure there are some of you who would disagree and say that teams would carry more pitchers — three or four lefty specialists, three or four late inning specialists, but I think not. Here’s why. There’s only so much you can do with pitching. That is to say, you can’t hold a team to LESS than zero runs. With one or two excellent starting pitchers and a couple of relievers, you have enough pitching I think.
.
2. You would see much more managerial strategy in baseball than is used now.

Let’s assume that teams would keep five pitchers. That would accomplish two things. One, it would mean the quality of pitching would go way, way up because you would essentially be dropping more than 50% of the pitchers used in baseball right now.

But, more significantly, assuming rosters stay at 25, it would mean that managers would leave 20 everyday players to use. Think about that. TWENTY. With that many players, a manager would have room on his roster for players of many different talents. You want a designated pinch runner. Heck, you can carry two. Go to the Olympics, get Usain Bolt. You want a designated bunter? Heck, call David Eckstein, get him out of retirement, he’s yours. You have room for defensive wizards and power-hitting slugs. You have room for pretty much any kind of ballplayer you would want.

And then, because every game would be so important and every run would be so precious, you would have managers trying all sorts of crazy things to score runs. I’m confident they would come up with strategies that no one has dreamed of in the 140-plus year history of the game. Why? Because they would HAVE to come up with new ways to score runs. There wouldn’t be a choice.

The strategies would be wild, I’d bet. You know the shifting defenses that are beginning to play a big role in the game. Managers and coaches would supersize them. They would play a different kind of shifting defense every game. There would be 20 different kinds of hit and run. Base stealing would become a much bigger part of the game. And I think there would be all sorts of innovations that my mind can’t reach now. Baseball would get its own Bill Walsh or Sid Gillman who would revolutionize offense. Baseball would get its own Buddy Ryan or Tom Landry who would revolutionize defense.

There’s a commonly held believe — I hold it — that football is a game more designed for strategy than baseball. Every play has its own special design. Coaches are placed all over the field to make adjustments. Teams huddle up before every play to talk about what they will do next. But maybe a big reason is football coaches simply have MORE TIME to design the game. If baseball was played only once a week, you better believe that managers and coaches would use every second of it to come up with ways to win.

Which leads to this:

3. There would be a lot more film watching in baseball.

I’ve spoken to many former baseball players who see no value at all in the video work that teams do. They say that breaking down the swing too much can mess with your mindset. They say that breaking down the pitcher fills the mind with too many thoughts. Hitting is a natural act. “See the ball, hit the ball,” Tony Perez always said.

I’m not sure how much of that is true but I do believe this: If they played baseball just once a week, managers and coaches and players would SCOUR over video just like in football. They would not only break down pitchers to the nth power, they would break down each individual hitter. They would break down each individual fielder. They would break down the other coach’s tendencies. They would gameplan each game differently.

The managers would do more of these things NOW except there’s no time. There’s another game tomorrow. And another game the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. There are too many pitchers to study intently, too many hitters to build a thorough portfolio on, too many fielders to worry about. There’s more gameplanning in baseball now than even three years ago. Specialty defenses. Expanded hitter breakdowns. Deeper scouting reports on pitchers — those old ballplayers say they used to get information like “Steve Carlton: Watch out for his slider.”

But if the game was once a week, there would be an information explosion. Like the NFL.

4. Baseball would become dramatically more violent.

I’m not 100% certain of this, of course. But I am probably 75% certain. Right now, we don’t tend to think of baseball as a contact sport. There IS contact — plays at the plate, double-play meetings at second base, the occasional hit-by pitch and ensuing bench-clear — but it’s mostly tangential to the game. Football, meanwhile, is violent at its core. Or anyway, that’s what we think now.

Except — baseball was extremely violent in its early days. And I think that if the game was played just once a week, if you faced each team only once or twice a season, if every game was critical, there would be a lot more violence in baseball. Collisions at the plate would be intensified. Nobody would concede the double play without really taking out the fielder. Pitchers would be much more likely to send message pitches. And I think you would probably find violence where there is none right now.

Here, think about it another way: What would happen to football if there were 162 games in a season. It’s unimaginable the way football is played now. Players could not survive. But if there was a 162-game football season, football WOULD NOT be played like it is now. Not even close. I think the violence would drop to almost nothing. It would become a glorified game of two-hand touch. Big hits would almost never happen — maybe in the playoffs. There would be less coaching. There would be less intensity. Football would HAVE to evolve that way for survival.

5. Baseball would get much better TV ratings and much bigger crowds.

Again, there’s a deep belief that football is a better television game than baseball. Again, I believe it. But part of the reason is the scarcity of pro football on television. Baseball is everywhere, all the time. The baseball game of the week is wonderfully done by ESPN with the fantastic Dan Shulman doing the games (and the equally fantastic Boog Sciambi backing him up). But it’s not the event that Sunday Night Football has become because you can watch those baseball teams play any night you want all summer long.

If each baseball team played just 16 baseball games, all the numbers numbers would jump. Ratings would jump. You would see 80,000 people at baseball games even though the ticket prices would go way up. Interest in each game would skyrocket.

Would that be good for baseball? No, not scaling all the way back to 16 games. There’s no way to make up for all the lost revenue — even if you did get 80,000 per game for eight baseball games, that’s still only 640,000 people, which is way less than half of what they drew in Tampa Bay this year. You could double or triple the ticket prices and never make up the lost revenue. And while the national television revenues might go up, the regional numbers would go down.

BUT there are many people who think, for the long-term health of the game, they absolutely SHOULD cut the schedule back fairly dramatically, create a bit more scarcity, make itself more of a national television product. I don’t sense people in baseball will go in that direction. They simply would not give up the gate.

6. Baseball statistics would mean a lot less.

People do follow football statistics, largely because of fantasy football. But everyone knows that baseball is the numbers game. This again is at least partially a function of the 162-game schedule. It isn’t necessarily that the baseball statistics are BETTER than the football statistics. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. But baseball has so many games, the only way you can really keep up with the game is through the numbers. We need them to make sense of a very long season with millions of events. If baseball was only 16 games, we wouldn’t need those numbers in the same way.

And, obviously, with the much smaller sample size, they wouldn’t mean as much either.

Obviously baseball is not going to a 16-game schedule. Baseball won’t even shave a few games off its schedule. But, I do think it’s interesting to think about how much of baseball’s character is the game itself is locked up in the length of the season. I do think it’s interesting to realize that the baseball we watch is not the only way to play baseball.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

Getty Images
2 Comments

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 8, Mets 2Yasmani Grandal hit two solo homers, but it was Yasiel Puig‘s three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth which padded the Dodgers’ lead to 5-1 and essentially ended the competitive portion of the ballgame. It started the cranky portion, however, as Puig admired the blast and took a slow trot which caused several Mets players to chirp at him. After the game Wilmer Flores said this of Puig:

“I don’t think he knows what having respect for the game is. We’re playing horrible right now, we don’t need his  sh–.”

I haven’t seem a Wilmer so testy since the last time I watched “The Maltese Falcon.” I dunno, Wilmer. Maybe play better? The Mets have dropped six of seven. The Dodgers have won six straight and 12 of 13.

Mariners 7, Tigers 5: Elsewhere in unwritten rules land, Jarrod Dyson bunted to break up Justin Verlander‘s perfect game in the sixth. Unlike the Mets, no one with the Tigers took exception with it. Probably because it sparked a three-run rally for the M’s which put them back in the ballgame. Nelson Cruz drove in two that inning with a double and three overall. Mitch Haniger homered.

Marlins 2, Nationals 1: I wrote this one up in detail here. Short version: Max Scherzer loses both the no-hitter and the game in the eighth inning. Guess it wasn’t a good day for taking no-hitters deep in the game for current and/or former members of the Tigers rotation. I know he’s on the DL now, but please, someone check on Drew Smyly.

Rays 8, Reds 3Trevor Plouffe and Taylor Featherston homered. Steven Souza and Logan Morrison each drove in two runs. A really long rundown happened too, nabbing Billy Hamilton. It took five throws and an outfielder made the putout. I can’t find a real time video of it from MLB, but this is pretty funny. The lighted dot in the top is Mallex Smith, who came a long way in from left to finally make the play:

Royals 6, Red Sox 4: Down 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth, the Royals loaded the bases and Sal Perez smacked a grand slam. He used one of Miguel Cabrera‘s bats to do it too. Miggy had given the bat to Drew Butera who gave it to Perez. Thanks to the blast, the Royals moved three games ahead of Detroit for third place in the Central. Thanks, Miggy!

Cardinals 7, Phillies 6: Rather than quickly recap the details of a very ugly Phillies loss, I’m gonna just send you to Bill’s recap of this game from late last night. Bill, a Phillies fan, does not spare a detail here, even though every part of him probably wanted to forget this game even happened. It’s sort of like one of those morbidity and mortality reports they make doctors give after patients die. Sure, you’d like to put it all behind you, but there is a value in hashing out all of the horrible mistakes. Doing so makes doctors better in the long run. I’m not sure what Bill is getting out of this. Either way, his patient is dead on a slab.

Padres 3, Cubs 2Erick Aybar hit a home run to things up at two in the sixth inning and Luis Torrens walked with the bases loaded against Koji Uehara to put the Pads ahead in the eighth. Torrens wouldn’t have even been playing if it weren’t for the fact that Austin Hedges was hurt and if it wasn’t for Antony Rizzo’s bad slide the other night, Hedges wouldn’t have been hurt. Some folks might call that karma.

Indians 5, Orioles 1: Carlos Carrasco struck out 10 in six shutout innings, scattering seven hits. Francisco Lindor homered and drove in three. Cleveland has won seven of eight. Baltimore has lost 10 of 14 and have allowed at least five runs in 18 consecutive games. That’s two short of the major league record set by the 1924 Philadelphia Phillies.

Yankees 8, Angels 4Didi Gregorius and Matt Holliday each homered as the Yankees end a seven game losing streak. Despite the win, the Yankees still got the now de rigueur terrible outing from Tyler Clippard, who came into a six-run game in the ninth inning and promptly gave up a double and a two-run homer, causing Joe Girardi to go to Aroldis Chapman despite it not being a save situation. That homer was by Martin Maldonado. He hit two in the game, in fact.

Braves 5, Giants 3Matt Kemp hit a two-run walkoff homer in the 11th inning to give the Braves the win. Matt Adams hit a two-run homer and Tyler Flowers went deep as well. It was the Braves 12th walkoff win. That leads the bigs this year.

Blue Jays 7, Rangers 5: The Jays jumped out to a 6-o lead in the first inning and built it to 7-0 after three. That’s all the scoring they’d do, but it was enough even though the Rangers made it close. Darwin Barney hit a two-run homer in that first frame. The most exciting play of the game, however, was Joey Gallo hitting an inside the park homer:

He was aided, of course, by Steven Pearce losing the ball, slamming into the wall and falling, but an inside-the-park dong is an inside-the-park dong.

Brewers 4, Pirates 3: Down 3-2 in the seventh, Domingo Santana jacked a two-run homer to give the Brewers the lead and the win. Later, Orlando Arcia made a great defensive play to end the game. It only shows up as a 6-3 putout in the box score, but it was dang spiffy:

Twins 4, White Sox 2: The young stars lead the Twins to victory: Jose Berrios allowed two runs over eight innings, striking out eight and Miguel Sano homered for the second straight night. The future looks bright for Minnesota.

Diamondbacks 16, Rockies 5: You don’t win many games when you allow ten runs in a single inning like the Rockies did here in the fourth. Brandon Drury drove in six runs without even homering. Indeed, the Rockies only gave up one homer, and it was already 12-3 when that one happened. All this on the day when the Dbacks skipped batting practice. Maybe there’s a lesson in there.

Actually, no, there’s no lesson in there. Stuff just happens. That’s basically true for most things in the universe: Stuff. Just. Happens.

 

Astros 5, Athletics 1: Houston hits a lot of homers, but here they strung together five singles in their three-run sixth inning. Carlos Correa would homer in the ninth, but the game was already over by then. Mike Fiers allowed one run over six innings for his fifth straight win.

Jarrod Dyson bunted and broke up Justin Verlander’s perfect game attempt

Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
15 Comments

Update: Both Verlander and Ausmus took no issue with Dyson’s bunt. Via MLB.com’s Jason Beck:

*

Tigers starter Justin Verlander had thrown five perfect innings against the Mariners and retired Mitch Haniger on strikes to begin the sixth inning. That brought up the speedy Jarrod Dyson. With a 1-1 count in a 4-0 game, Dyson laid a bunt down the first base line. Both Verlander and first baseman Miguel Cabrera charged towards the ball and second baseman Ian Kinsler was late covering the bag, so there was absolutely zero chance Dyson would’ve been out.

In the rather hefty tome of baseball’s unwritten rules, “don’t bunt to break up a perfect game or no-hitter” is somewhere in there. Ben Davis famously and successfully broke up Curt Schilling’s perfect game bid in the eighth inning back in 2001, which earned him some scorn. Then-manager Bob Brenly called the bunt “chicken,” though Schilling didn’t have any unkind words towards Davis after the game. It’s happened a few times since then.

Following the bunt single, Verlander walked Mike Zunino and allowed an infield single to Jean Segura to load the bases. Ben Gamel brought in the Mariners’ first run with a single to center field. Verlander had light at the end of the tunnel when he struck out Robinson Cano for the second out, but served up a two-run double to Nelson Cruz, ending his evening. Shane Greene relieved him.

Verlander and manager Brad Ausmus will almost certainly be asked for their thoughts on Dyson’s bunt after the game. It’ll be interesting to see if they take the high road or the low road.