This Year’s Batch of Proposed Baseball Rule Changes


Richard Hershberger

Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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30 Responses

  1. Avatar Marchmaine says:

    I’m with you on Strike zone… top of the knee is fine. I’m starting to lean in favor of automated balls/strikes, but not yet – mostly because I remember backyard ball and having a fixed strikezone which simply encouraged throwing unhittible pitches that ticked the corner (and here I’m talking whiffle ball, where unhittable meant, can’t reach with your bat, but it moves so much it hits the edge of the zone). Technically that’s what the current zone is, but practically the angle of approach is factored – if perhaps subconsciously.

    I’m ambivalent about the free pass… part of me says, just throw the balls; but that part of me would be more vigorously opposed if there was some sort (any sort) of counter strategy. Sure, we’ve all seen the vanishingly rare wild pitch that complicates things… but I can’t recall ever seeing a man steal third (I’m sure it’s happened, but…) rather than simply accepting the extra baserunner. So, since there is no actual baseball counter (only theoretical ones not in use), meh… I can’t really muster strong sentiments against. So in that case, it falls into the category of neither doing good nor harm… so my innate traditionalism says, defer to no.

    On the matter of extra innings, I am persuaded that a better way to approach them would be a definite good, but I am not persuaded that putting a man on second is the way to do it. I think Hockey right now has the best overtime strategy; it has three elements
    1) If you play to a tie, each team gets 1 point
    2) there is one 5-minute overtime period… played 3v3… sudden death.
    3) Finally, teams alternate penalty shots until 1 team is up by one after the other team has had a chance to tie.
    The thing that makes it work is that all of these things are organic hockey elements… and arguably watching the 3v3 is actually a bonus to having the game go into OT… its that exciting.

    So, what would I takeaway from the Hockey success?
    1) Each team gets a point for a tie.
    2) Extra Innings should have a rule-throttle rather than simulated game situation… by this I mean something like starting the count 1-0 or 2-1… you are pushing the game towards hitters, but that’s what you want… hitters hitting, pitchers throwing better pitches and faster resolution. Sure, kinda sucks to be a pitcher for your sabermetrics… but putting a man on second usually slows down a game.

    With a man on second, pitchers are more cautious, pitch selection will be biased towards a walk/stikeout rather than allowing a hit… all the things that contribute to the slower pace. In a sudden death situation with a man on 2nd, the playbook is pitch to a strikeout (allow walks upto loading the bases) in search of the first out… then double play (or strikeouts on marginal pitches). Basically you are setting up a slow gruelling inning that isn’t that fun to watch. Plus, it doesn’t have any of the organic feel of baseball. Terrible idea.

    What you want is a true baseball resolution for the extra 1 point, one that doesn’t physically drain both teams, showcases the best talent, and allows for an exciting conclusion that feels like a bonus and not a chore.Report

    • Avatar Brent F says:

      Hockey’s current system has the huge problem that it encourages teams to play for the tie in the last half of the third period, to get the single point.

      However, 3 on 3 play is awesome and a very good idea. A lot of people think they should ditch the shootout entirely, as well as the extra point at end of regulation and just have 10 minutes of 3 on 3 (statistically likely to produce a goal) and bring back the tie if nobody scores in OT.

      The big problem is the league apparently prefers the false parity of 3 point games keeping the standings close.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        The big problem is the league apparently prefers the false parity of 3 point games keeping the standings close.

        As a hockey fan, I love the 3-on-3 overtime. And I love the subsequent shootout if no one scores. What I don’t like is the point for a tie/two points for a win formula.

        There are two points awarded in any game. Two for a win, one to each side for a tie. Either don’t have ties, or don’t have wins.

        Add: and I have no problem with teams playing for a tie, at least as that motivation relates to the old rules when ties were a real thing. Problem is, if the League has decided that Winning matters, then … well … winning ought to matter.Report

        • Avatar Brent F says:

          The maybe 3 point game was more or less created to fix two problems the league had in the late 90s, lack of parity in the height of the unrestricted spending era and boring overtime as teams played for ties.

          They’ve largely fixed both those things with reducing player numbers in OT and the league having greater real parity than ever before under the hard cap system, so the system no longer has a purpose and just serves to randomize the standings a bit and make the point system complicated.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            All that’s true. And thinking about it some more, I wonder if my commitment to two-points/game is a bit antiquated and that maybe the proper solution is to move in the other direction: allow 4 total points per game, 3 going to the winner and 1 for the losing team which ends regulation in a tie. That would reward playing for the tie (which I like, strategically) as well as reward the winner with a +2 on the field for the win.

            As it is right now, I feel like a win just isn’t rewarded enough.Report

  2. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    Subsequent to writing this piece, I read an interesting commentary on the extra innings proposal. The writer correctly identifies that marathon games are the real issue here, and suggests simply abolishing them by rule. If, after the twelfth inning (or whatever) the score is tied, then the game is a tie.

    I have written previously on tie games in baseball. Part of why they just don’t seem right to a lot of people is that, for interesting historical reasons, they don’t count in the standings. They either are replayed or simply disappear. It has been this way for a century and a half. Compare this with football. Various measures have been taken over the years to make ties rare, but they still happen, and when they do they are right there in the standings.

    The idea to simply stop the game before it hits marathon status makes sense to me. Perhaps I am primed to accept the idea of ties in baseball, because they were far more common in the era I study. We could replay them or not. I don’t care either way. Replaying them allows for additional ticket sales, so I would expect the owners to like that. In practice, marathons are rare enough that this rule wouldn’t kick in often.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw says:

      I thought the marathon games were the real issue, and large part of me thinks this simply goes back to poor resource husbanding by the manager. There is a related issue that irks a lot of fans, which is the number of pitching substitutions in an inning. This doesn’t bother me in a playoff game, but using three pitchers to get three outs in the 6th inning feels like it should come with a consequence.

      There are also some productive things I think MLB could do to make it easier to bring up a farm hand to spot some relief pitching in the days following a long game.Report

      • Avatar Mo says:

        Is it poor resource husbanding? Seems to me that marathon games are rare enough that playing to win the normal games, even if it leaves you ill suited to win a marathon game, is the optimal solution. Unless you’re in the five 9 uptime business, you don’t plan your resources around the corner cases. Put another way, “If you’ve never missed a flight, you waste too much time in airports.”Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw says:

          I may not have been fair, but some managers utilize their resources better than others and some teams have poorer roster construction (specialists). Just because the score is tied after 9 doesn’t mean that one team might be in a better position to win in the next two innings than the other. But you’re right that we’re probably talking about a small number of games. It looks like a given team faced an average 6 2/3 games that went to the 11th inning, which is what this rule would seek to limit.Report

  3. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    1. MLB can do all it wants to regulate the strike zone. The umps each have a zone, and he’ll call it that way for the majority of games worked. Plus, each pitcher, or at least the good ones, gets a little leeway, too. Greg Maddux’s strike zone was really wide, for instance. It’s really unlikely that he’d have won 300 games pitching to a regulation strike zone with a fastball in the upper 80s. For my money, the zone is fine as it is.

    2. Automatic passes on an intentional BB would deprive us of this: Does it happen often? Of course not, but why remove the possibility of something interesting happening?

    3. Putting a runner on base for extra innings brings us into beer league softball territory. If as a fan you’ve made it into extras, you’ve already demonstrated the pace of the game doesn’t bother you.

    My proposal for speeding up the game: keep the batters in the damn box, and eliminate the player called time out during an at bat. Outlaw batting gloves if you have to. This stuff drives me crazy.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      The umps each have a zone, and he’ll call it that way for the majority of games worked.

      This is less true than in years past. PITCHf/x is one of those quiet revolutions that is easy to miss. The whole point of it is to train umpires to call balls and strikes more consistently, with an implied threat that if they don’t, MLB will simply give the job to PITCHf/x directly.Report

  4. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    On advancing a runner to 2B to shorten extra innings, I looked at some numbers to see what was likely to happen, and I don’t think it will shorten the game.

    When a batter comes to the plate with no outs, and a man on second base, the average number of runs scored that inning (run expectancy) is 1.189. There are a lot of ways to score that run, and more than likely that runner will score. Here are the distributions:

    36.7% of the time no runs scored that inning
    34.2% of the time one run scored
    29.1% of the time more than one run scored

    These are averages across different types of players and different strategic circumstances. What I think is going to happen is that the visiting team will believe there is a decent chance that the home team will score a run in the bottom half of the inning, but also there is a decent chance one run will be enough to win the game. They will play for the single run, and its not necessarily difficult to do and may continue for a few innings until there is a bullpen collapse or a slugger hits a two-run HR, just like today.

    With a runner on 3B and one out, the average number of runs scored is 0.983, with this distribution;

    33.0% of the time no runs scored that inning
    48.2% of the time one run scored
    18.8% of the time more than one run scored.

    So, it appears that a team can increase the chances of scoring one run by sacrificing the chance of scoring more than one run that inning.

    (The numbers are from The Book by Tom Tango et al. I understand that there are a lot of variables that come into play in a single game, but just from a design standpoint, placing a runner on 2B simply makes it too easy to score one run that it may not shorten the game)Report

  5. Avatar Stillwater says:

    I’m gonna come at this from another direction: a large part of the problem re: length of games strikes me as ineradicable and more-or-less constitutive of game itself and based more on the economic model than anything happening on the field. Networks want lots of breaks to show commercials.

    As an example of what I mean: an MLB baseball game has 32-34 minutes of down time (between inning breaks) built right in, minutes in which nothing happens other other than TV viewers watching commercials and fans at the park watch the defense “loosen up their arms”. Do players really need two minutes to “get loose”? NBA players sit on the bench for much longer than that and return to the game without requiring a warm up playing a sport which is much more physically demanding than baseball. Why not reduce it to one minute?

    Along those lines, I’ve heard another time saving proposal being kicked about: limiting the number of pitching changes managers are allowed to make, which seems ridiculous on its face. Be that as it may, it does point to a real problem: the reason pitching changes take time isn’t because of the switch, it’s because the new pitcher is allowed, and takes, his practice pitches (during which TV viewers get to see more commercials). Why not change the “practice pitch” rule and require the new pitcher to come in ready to actually pitch on an MLB mound right off the bench?

    Re: the other changes: I’m not down with any of them. Leave The Strike Zone Alone!; intentional walks are part of the game; putting a guy on second during extra innings strikes me as inconsistent with the principles of the game (and hokey). On the other hand, I really like Marchmaine’s suggestion to have hitters in extra innings start an at-bat with a hitters count (say, 2-1). That move would encourage swings and reduce (obvs) the total time between pitches per at-bat.Report

  6. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I’m interested in the “contemplative moments” musing at the end of the OP. It’s one of the reasons that it can be hard to initiate new people into fandom, people who don’t have an appetite for the measured pace and subtle movements that are part of the tension. So how do we make at-bats move along faster? I have three ideas.

    1. Perhaps we restrict, or even eliminate, the ability of a batter to call time out. Batter gets one time out of no more than twenty seconds while at bat, in case he needs to adjust his equipment or scratch his nuts or something like that, but otherwise, it’s time for the man to do his job. Other dilatory actions result in a “delay of game” penalty of a strike, up to and including a third strike resulting in an out.

    2. Perhaps we time the pitcher the way the NFL times a quarterback: once the batter is in his stance, the pitcher has, say, ten seconds to set up and throw, else he is charged with a balk (or, somewhat less harshly, a ball). We’d have to define with precision what it means for a batter to be “in his stance,” but I think that could be done.

    3. Perhaps we have a foul ball on two strikes be something other than a nullity. I speculate that if we were to tinker here, that foul ball would become a third strike, batter’s out. This would be a big change indeed and I’m not sure it’d be entirely fair to the batter based on the physics of why a ball flies foul instead of fair — a twist of the wrist or a small change in posture at the moment of contact, a reach or a pull changing the spot on the bat where the ball makes contact (in reaction to where the pitch is thrown), and spin on the baseball itself from its pitch are all factors, not all of which the batter can control. Still, I throw it out there as something that could be done to speed at-bats along.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      I’m a big fan of pt. 1 and 2, Burt. The two other “stop action” major sports have a play clock to require that actual actionable action takes place. My preference would be for an actual play clock to begin after a called ball/strike by the end of which the pitcher must deliver the ball to the plate with ball/strike penalties handed out to the evil-doers appropriately (and liberally!)Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw says:

      2. They have pitch clocks in the minors now, which have significantly reduced game times. Background. My preference would be to keep it in the minors, letting pitchers learn a quicker delivery routine.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Another thing: no more walks to the mound to get the signals right, work on strategy, slow down the momentum, etc. These guys are pros who get paid a lot of money to get the signals, strategy, momentum correct before they enter the game.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      Some game reports from the late 1850s include pitch counts, sometimes inning by inning. The numbers are high by modern standards. Not as absurdly high as we sometimes see claimed. Those are later exaggerations. But still, high, as in perhaps half again what you would see today. Game reports also routinely included the length of the game. So you can see a game where both pitchers threw about 300 pitches. and the game took two hours and ten minutes. How did they achieve this? Mostly by not spending time between pitches. This is one thing that modern vintage base ball clubs typically get right. The pitcher throws the ball. The catcher receives the ball, and immediately throws it back to the pitcher, who then immediately pitches it again. It is quite startling to the modern eye.

      I think what we have is a change in baseball culture. In the modern game, both the pitcher and the batter expect the right to declare when they are fully ready: their mental concentration is there, the dirt has been groomed just so, and they are settled in position. But wait! Something is off, so now one of them isn’t ready anymore. Imagine the batter giving a monologue: “OK, I’m stepping into the box; give me a moment to rearrange the dirt a bit; OK, now I’m ready…. Wait! My concentration broke! I’m not ready. Hold off a moment while I get ready again…” If both the batter and the pitcher are doing this routine, the result is gruesome.

      Here’s an idea. Bring back the quick pitch. Pitching quickly so before the batter is ready is illegal. Why? The rules make a hand-waving claim about their being dangerous. Perhaps. I would like to see the evidence. Allow the pitcher to go into his delivery as soon as the batter had both feet in the box: it would be a wonderful stimulant to concentration.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        In the context of the discussion, the quick pitch merely allows a pitcher speed up the game by pitchikng when the batter ain’t ready. Which is fine, as far as it goes. But why not go further, to an actual clock? I’m curious why the baseball purists are so opposed to it since it seem to me that not only was the historical standard by which the game was played (without coercion) but that the current “I gotta scratch my nuts and regroup my thoughts between every pitch” dynamic creates outcomes which are inherently bad for the game.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

          Partly because I am an incrementalist by nature. I would prefer to implement the smallest possible change and see how it works out. If it doesn’t, the ratchet things up a notch. Repeat as necessary.

          I also prefer to change incentives rather than mandate behavior. Give pitchers a reason to pitch more quickly and they will respond to the new incentive.

          In the same vein, I dislike simply outlawing optimum strategies. This is crude and unaesthetic. This is why I don’t want to limit pitcher changes, and why I roll my eyes at the idea of outlawing the shift. The time between pitches is to some extent situational. You have guys who chug along at a reasonable rate until a man gets on base, and which point things grind to a halt. This is because there is a lot of interplay between the pitcher and that runner that isn’t very telegenic, and so gets dismissed.

          Related to the last point, consider unintended consequences and perverse incentives. A man is on first. The pitcher has been doing his cat-and-mouse act with the runner, which has not as yet included throwing the ball to first base. But the pitch clock is running down. What is the pitcher to do? We would like him to pitch the ball, but he also has the option of tossing it to the first baseman. Is this any improvement? Of course we could limit by rule the number of times the pitcher can do this. This would have implications for the running game. This might be acceptable. It might even be desirable–I like the running game! But we are moving far afield from the original intent.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:


            Thanks for the reply. I just gotta say in response (impertinent youngster that I am :), that even I, who grew up loving baseball, don’t watch it anymore because the games are too long and slow. Regular season baseball is just plain boring to watch.

            Except, as you say, until there are players in scoring position (now that’s when the game IS ON). Or, I’d add, during the playoffs, when all the strategerizing adds to the drama of the game. I tune in to the playoffs every year. Those are games (GAMES) worth watching because they actually matter.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Maybe this is a better way to say it:

              If I tune into an MLB regular season game it’s because I wanna see great hitting against great pitching and defense and see how things play out. What I don’t wanna see is a bunch of prima donna hitters stepping outa the batters box after every pitch as if it were WS game seven, and I don’t wanna see pitchers going back to the rosin bag as if it were WS game seven, nor the repeated trips to the mound as it were WS game seven.

              I wanna see athletes competing without all the accompanying, individually orchestrated “drama”.Report

            • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

              Radio. You have the game on while you do other stuff. A man gets on base. This vaguely enters your brain, but only slightly impinging upon your consciousness. The he gets to second and you snap to attention. If you want to see, rather than hear, what happens next, then you can switch over to TV at this point, but up to that point you are better off with the radio feed, since the announcers do a better job, for obvious reasons, of describing the situation.

              The same process works with social trips to the ballpark. I divide games watched live at the park into two categories. If I am by myself I score the game. This focuses the concentration wonderfully. I can tell you what happened three innings earlier, often without referring to my scorebook. If I go with other people, unless they are as nerdy about baseball as I am, I treat the game totally different, as a social outing. These work much like I described with the game on the radio. We are exchanging our insightful opinions on life, the universe, and everything, with the game going on in front of us. Then a guy gets on first, and our attention is every so slightly turned more toward the game. Then a guy gets on second and suddenly life, the universe, and everything can take care of itself.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      Perhaps we have a foul ball on two strikes be something other than a nullity.

      Historically, all uncaught foul balls were a nullity. The whole idea of fair and foul territory was a later addition, though by “later” here I mean 1845, or perhaps a few years earlier. The idea is actually quite weird, though we don’t think of it that way today out of long familiarity. Then in the mid 1880s players got the hang of intentionally bunting the ball foul. You can do this pretty much all day. This lengthened games and, worse, in an uninteresting way. So in, um.., 1887? (or was it 1886? I would look it up, were I more motivated) the umpire was empowered to call a strike on a ball intentionally hit foul, which seems in practice to have mean a ball bunted foul. The modern rule came in 1901/1903 (NL/AL) as a general way to speed up games, and codifying the assumption that any ball bunted foul was to be taken as being intentional.

      Making all foul balls count as strikes regardless of the count would be radical–far too radical to actually enact. I also suspect that we wouldn’t like the results. Yes, games would be shortened. But scoring would go way down. We are already in the midst of a long-term trend of increased strikeouts. The career strikeout records used to be held by the Cy Young-era pitchers, when they threw a ridiculous number of innings per season. Now they are held by modern pitchers, who throw a ridiculous number of strikeouts per inning. Count all foul balls as strikes would make the current rate seem quaint.Report

  7. If a game is tied after nine innings, how about:

    1. Hockey rules: pull the shortstops and play the tenth. If it’s still tied, go to a home run hitting contest.

    2. Football rules: flip a coin to see who bats first, and the first score wins.

    3. Bridge rules: Play a goulash. The defense has to play everyone out of position, and managers pitch to their own teams. It may not be any faster, but it’ll be fun.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Hockey rules would entail taking one third of the normal positions off the field, going from nine to six: pitcher, catcher, two infielders, two outfielders. If you did that, top halfs would undoubtedly be very exciting but might literally never end. So you’d need to impose an accompanying skunk rule to make sure the game ended in a timely manner.Report

  8. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    I’m just gonna put this here for posterity. Baseball’s everywhere!

  9. Avatar Mo says:

    One advantage to making IBB automatic is that you don’t throw off the pitchers’ mechanics. Though that may just be nonsense commentary by announcers rather than anything factual.Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Automating the IBB would have the strange effect of basing a rule around a stat. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe there are any special rules that make an IBB different than a traditional BB. It is really the stat book that differentiates. Four pitches out of the zone are four pitches out of the zone. There are rules that impact the IBB, such as the fact that the catch has to start behind the plate and the batter can’t step out over the plate to swing… but these rules are true all of the time; they don’t change just because an IBB is in progress. Now, in this case, I don’t see this fact having any real effect on the game. But we’ve already seen how the statbook can screw with the game because of the Save… but that effect is due to manager and player strategy, not the actual rules. Allowing the statbook to further drive the direction of the game with no discernible benefit just seems like a strange road to go down.

    I didn’t realize PitchFx was specifically intended to help evaluate umps. I thought that was QuesTec. Or are those one in the same? While more accurate and consistent umpiring is huge, all of the other data we can glean from this tech is amazing. Learning how different pitches move, break, and spin is awesome. I believe they have also implemented similar systems for tracking batted balls (I have to assume this is purely for stat heads and fans) and are trying to develop one to track fielders.

    Someone above mentioned robo-umps and I would fully support this for balls-and-strikes. In fact, I’d support automating as many objective calls in all sports as possible, with the caveat being that this is much more logistically difficult than many people imagine. But balls-and-strikes seems almost perfectly suited for just such a change.Report