The Commissioner’s Office of Major League Baseball has publicly voiced concerns regarding pace of play and the abundance of offense in the current meta game. This week the office announced experimental rules that would be implemented in the 2021 minor league season.
However, none of the announcements made pass the eye test. Superficial changes like widening the bases should have a marginal affect on stolen base numbers. But more intrusive changes, including limiting pick-offs, changing the mechanics of the pick-off and restricting infield positioning, all change the game fundamentally. Additionally, as Meg from Effectively Wild mentioned recently, these minor league rules experiments can effect the development of players who are coming off a wash-out 2020 pandemic seasons.
These adjustments to the game, coupled with the recent pitch clock and mound visit limit rules, are inefficient ways to address the current pace of play issue.
Two changes that would have dramatically positive effects on both pace of play as well as limiting offensive output.
- Reduce between inning commercial breaks.
The current rule allows for 2 minute breaks. Reducing this limit to 1:30 will shave eight and a half minutes off the game. In 2020 the average game lasted 3h7m. This one change alone would bring the game length down under 3 hours. The added benefit would be felt in the marketing department, as the commercial time available between innings becomes more valuable.
- Eliminate the DH
According to a June 2012 article published by Cee Angi, American League games are 4.95 minutes longer than National League games. Round that to 5, and with the shorter inter-inning breaks, the average game length can be reduced by 13 minutes and bring the average down from 3h7m to 2h54.
Reverting completely to the NL “Pitchers Hit” rule would have a natural impact on offensive output. According to a paper published out of Clemson University, as of 2008, the American League outscored the National League in 35 of 36 seasons (the only outlier being 1974). This equates, according to the paper, to 1/3rd of a run more per game in the AL than the NL. Over the course of 162 games, this (as long as my math is right, which is never a guarantee) creates 53.46 more runs per team per season in the AL over the NL.
The resultant effect on starting pitching as the concept of the DH takes batting order concerns out of pitching changes would be negligible. Complete games in both leagues have been on a negative growth rate trend consistently since about 1975 in both circuits reaching a rate of -6.54% & -7.17% in the NL & AL respectively. The importance of the complete game as well as starting pitcher stamina has been greatly reduced, particularly in recent years with the introduction of “Openers/Followers” and the increasing use of situational specialists in the bullpen.
I’ve never been a fan of tinkering with the game. I’m not a fan of the three-division alignment, and I don’t really enjoy the DH. But, if baseball does want shorter, less offensive minded games, getting rid of the DH would go towards that effect.