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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2017 – No. 23: Baseball institutes no-pitch intentional walk

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We’re a few short days away from 2018 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2017. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Thanks to more pitching changes, commercials, instant replay, mound visits and pitchers and batters generally dawdling, Major League Baseball games have grown longer and longer over the years. This bothers the powers that be who, likely correctly, realize that there is a limit to the number of people who want to invest more than three hours in a piece of entertainment multiple times a week. To that end, Rob Manfred and the folks who run the game have looked to find ways to speed the game up.

Rather than doing anything decisive to address the pitching changes, the commercials, the instant replay, the mound visits or the pitchers and batters generally dawdling, in 2017 Manfred decided to eliminate a thing that no one ever really thought added too much time to games: intentional walks. Actual intentional walks, that is. In February Major League Baseball approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk, disposing of the need to toss four intentionally-out-of-the-strike-zone pitches.

Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone saved a minute, maybe two for each intentional walk. Thing was, though, teams didn’t issue many IBBs to begin with. In 2016, there were 932 of them across 2,428 games, or an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. In 2017 there was a slight uptick — 970 in 2,430 games — but again, a marginal at best time-savings. The rule change angered an, in at least one case, confused some players in April, but we got used to it pretty fast. It seemed more like change for the sake of change, though. It seemed to be calculated to allow Manfred to claim he was doing something about pace-of-play when in, reality, he wasn’t touching the stuff that really cause games to drag.

He also took away a couple of things we liked.

As I argued back in February, he took away the shame of the intentional walk. The chance for fans, already agitated at a boring game on a steamy Tuesday night in August, to have a little fun and boo the hell out of the opposing manager for being so cowardly as to walk a guy you wanted to see hit. He still walks that guy now, but it happens so fast that we fans really can’t clear our throats with a lusty boo.

He also took away the possibility of this ever happening:

 

I mean, no, that didn’t happen often, but when it DID happen, oh Martha, it was a lot of fun.

There are rumors that, next season, we may have a pitch clock. Perhaps, as was the case with the intentional walk rule, Manfred will just impose it in February. If so, that’ll be a far bigger deal than this, both in terms of impact on the times of game and in terms of fan and player reaction to it.

Maybe if it’s super successful, we can get our four intentionally outside pitches restored.

Battle of the Aces: Max Scherzer takes on Clayton Kershaw tonight

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I hope you don’t have any plans tonight at around 10PM Eastern time, because that’s when we get a pitching matchup for the ages as Max Scherzer will take on Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium. When they meet tonight it will be the first time two pitchers with three or more Cy Young Awards have matched up since 2006. That year, and in 2005 and 2000, Roger Clemens faced Greg Maddux. In 2001 Clemens faced Pedro Martinez.

Kershaw won his hardware in 2011, 2013 and 2014, with an MVP award in 2014 to boot. Scherzer collected trophies in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Each has started the 2018 season in Cy Young form. Kershaw is 1-2, but that record is due to poor run support. He has a 1.73 ERA and has struck out 31 batters and has walked only three in 26 innings. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA and a whopping 38 strikeouts to only 4 walks in 27 innings.

This will be the third time that Kershaw and Scherzer faced each other if you include the playoffs. The first meeting was a decade ago when both were rookies. They most recently faced off in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS, way back when Scherzer only had one Cy Young Award to his credit. Kershaw beat Scherzer in that playoff game and the Dodgers beat Scherzer’s teams in the two regular season matchups, with neither guy setting the world on fire. As so often happens in baseball, the hype hasn’t been matched by reality.

Still, there’s always a chance it will. And even if, in the end, this turns into a slugfest, the first couple of innings should at least give us some hope of something good. I’ll be watching.