Proposed Rule Changes for Major League Baseball in 2017

There are two proposed rule changes to Major League Baseball for 2017. One involves shrinking the strike zone, bringing the lower end up to the top of the knees. The argument is that umpires have been routinely calling strikes below the knees and by raising the strike zone, this will help bring it back to what it was supposed to be all along—effectively shrinking the strike zone by 2 inches.

Then there is the proposal to eliminate the need for pitchers to throw any pitches when calling an intentional walk. The proposed rule would allow a pitcher to announce an intentional walk. The batter could then take his base without any need for the four pitches to be thrown. The purpose of the rule is to help speed up the pace of the game. I don’t buy it.

In 2015 (the most recent year for which I could find the data), there were 0.2 intentional walks per game, on average. Put another way, there was one intentional walk every 5 games. Over the course of a season, for a given team, that means a grand total of 32.4 intentional walks.

Let’s say it takes 1 minute of game time for an intentional walk. Batter comes to the plate, pitcher throws his pitches, batter takes his base. How much time does this really shave off in a game?

Well, with 1 intentional walk every five games, you save one minute every five games, or about 12 seconds per game on average. That’s 12 seconds per game. Twelve seconds is not even enough time to throw in another commercial on the broadcast. That requires at least 30 seconds. In 2016, the average MLB game time was 3 hours 26 seconds. Eliminating the need to throw pitches for an intentional walk would bring that time to about 3 hours and 14 seconds. Big savings!

I might get on board with other reasons for changing the rule for how intentional walks are executed (although I don’t know what those reasons might be), but to change the rule to increase the pace of the game is patently ridiculous when that savings amounts to 12 seconds per game.

Things look better when you take the season as a whole. There are 2,430 games in a regular season. Saving 12 seconds on each of those games amounts to a little over 8 hours saved in game time across an entire season. That is to say that if you watched every MLB regular season game, this rule change would save you 8 hours/year. But most people don’t watch every game. So for most people, such a change would go unnoticed.

Except… eliminating the need to throw the pitches for an intentional walk eliminates an elements of chance from the game. It eliminates the very thing that can make baseball so exciting. One pitch could get away from the pitches, leading to a wild pitch. One pitch could come a little inside, leading to a batter to take a swing at it. Part of what makes baseball great how quickly things can change. Eliminating one of those means to save 12 seconds seems silly to me.