Whenever I talk about how much I love watching baseball, I almost always get met with the response of “but the games are so long!”
Well, it won’t be long anymore … or so the MLB thinks. In February, the MLB players’ union approved the use of a signal from the dugout to automatically send a batter on an intentional walk, instead of a pitcher throwing four balls in order to walk the batter. The reasoning behind this is to speed up the pace of the game.
But how much faster will games be over now because of this? In the 2016 season, all MLB teams issued a total of 932 intentional walks in 2,427 games, averaging to 1.54 pitches per game. It’s estimated that this new intentional walk rule will shave off a whole 14 seconds from games that are, on average, three hours long.
Yes. Fourteen seconds. That’s about as much time as it takes to get out of my seat and walk up the stairs to go get a hot dog during the game. Though the MLB may feel that throwing four pitches outside the strike zone is old-fashioned, baseball fans are up in arms.
Drastic rule changes have been happening recently. The slide rule (also known as the “Chase Utley rule”), instant replays being utilized more, time limits being put in place for managers visiting the mound and now, intentional walks becoming signals instead of pitches. When this many changes are made in a short amount of time, baseball fans have begun to feel like the entire game is being upended.
The most exciting parts of baseball come from the unexpected moments, like a wild pitch happening during the four outside pitches of an intentional walk leading to scored runs, or a batter attempting to hit a ball clearly outside the strike zone. A notable example of this is from 2006, when Miguel Cabrera of the Marlins, hit a single off an intentional walk pitch, bringing in a run for the Marlins in an extra inning. With the introduction of the signal, these accidental moments have no chance of happening any more.
Now that the regular season has begun, we’re starting to see the implementation of the new signal. Last Monday, while watching the Dodgers versus the Padres, I saw the signal being used for the first time … or rather, missed the signal being used. I usually turn on a baseball game, mute it and work on homework, but during this game, I looked away for a second, and suddenly Dodgers’ right fielder Yasiel Puig was on first base with no hit. It took me a while to decode what had just happened: an intentional walk.
I don’t anticipate being any less confused over the new rule when attending a game either. Rarely are fans watching the dugout when the action is on the field, so we likely won’t see the signal being given. Another problem is that there is no strict rule by the MLB as to what the signal looks like. Every manager gets to pick whatever sign they’d like to throw. This inconsistency is just made to create confusion.
Even players are being thrown off by this new rule. “I called timeout, got back to the bag, and when I looked up, he (Albert Pujols) was on first base,” Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim told the Los Angeles Times after opening day. “It took me a little bit to figure out what happened. But that’s the way it’s going, I guess.”
Ultimately, will this rule change speed up the game that much? No. Will it drastically change the beloved national pastime? That’s a no as well, but it might take away a bit of what makes the game exciting.