Oh, hey, someone wants to “fix” baseball again

Library of Congress
26 Comments

God knows baseball isn’t perfect.

The pitching-hitting balance seems to be off and the ball is in play far less often than it should be these days. Relief pitching specialists and an overemphasis on max velocity pitching doesn’t help these things or the overall aesthetics of the game. The management-labor balance is out-of-whack. Ticket prices are too damn high. The dependence on cable TV revenues is making it harder and harder for the folks who can’t afford to go to games or who don’t live near ballparks to, you know, actually watch games.

That’s a lot of complaining, but . . .

  • Those complaints come from a place of love for the game;
  • Those complaints are rooted in a desire to see more baseball, not less; and
  • The solutions to those problems, if they are to be found, likely do not involve radically altering the game’s structure and rules because some game theorists came up with some farkakte idea to solve problems that can be solved far more easily with less-obtrusive measures.

The same can’t be said for the steaming pile of ideas I just read in The Wall Street Journal.

Those ideas come from a game theorist and computer scientist, who think that baseball would be “fixed” if we gave teams who hold a lead only two outs in an inning instead of one out. No, I am not making that up. They call it “The Catch Up Rule”:

Here’s the deal. The Catch Up Rule is actually fairly simple. When the game is 0-0 or tied, baseball is played exactly as it is today—three outs per side. But when the at-bat club has or takes a lead, it gets two outs instead of three.

For example: Your team is in a scoreless contest. Then your slugger hits a home run to go up 1-0. Now your inning ends at two outs. Not three. As long as you keep a lead, your at-bat innings are two outs.

That’s it. Tie game, three outs a side. Get the lead, play with two outs. If you take the lead with two outs, the lead stays, but the inning ends.

They say it’d cut about 24 minutes off of games and that it’d cut the margin of victory in each game by over a run, making things more competitive. Philosophically, of course, this is like saying you can lose 40 pounds by cutting off your legs.

The article talks about how this would improve pace of play, but it actually would not. It would cut the length of games, which is a totally different thing than pace of play. Instead of multiple pitching changes and ages between pitches as guys gear up for 100 m.p.h. pitches, scratch their crotches and adjust their batting gloves going away, we’d simply get ages between pitches as guys gear up for 100 m.p.h. pitches, scratch their crotches and adjust their batting gloves for 24 fewer minutes. Also: pace of play, and game length for that matter, is about 1/10 of the problem you’d think it is based on all of the ink you see spilled about it.

The article talks about how it would help competitive balance. That is also baloney, because absolutely no one on the planet thinks “margin of victory per game” is evidence of a competitive balance problem. Competitive balance is about the balance over the course of 162 games or across multiple seasons. That, at the moment, is mostly affected by having a third of the damn front offices in the league not being anywhere near as interested in winning baseball games as they are in making money and stockpiling prospects so, a few years down the road, they can maybe win some baseball games whole making more money.

But hey, none of this really matters when you’re trying to “fix” baseball. Which seems to primarily be a pursuit of those folks who have absolutely no damn idea of why people like baseball in the first place. Funny that.