Intentional Nonsense

It happened the other day in the Yankee game. With a runner on second (and possibly third) and less than two outs, Joe Girardi signaled the home plate umpire to indicate he wanted to intentionally walk a batter. No pitches were thrown. The batter just walked to first base.

Prior to the 2017 season, an intentional walk was executed by the pitcher deliberately hurling four outside pitches, usually with the catcher standing behind the plate and holding a glove to one side to indicate intention. The rationale for the new rule, omitting the tosses home, is that it will save time and speed up the pace of the game. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: that’s a bunch of nonsense.

In 2015 Major League Baseball saw an average of one intentional pass every 5 games. Assuming it takes one minute to complete an intentional pass from the time the batter steps into the box to the time he reaches first base, that’s about 12 seconds per game on average. With an average game time of 3 hours and 26 seconds in 2016, the new rule shortens the average game to 3 hours and 14 seconds.

What’s more, the new rule removes some of the wonderful randomness from the game that makes it a delight to watch. Occasionally, a ball will get by the catcher and things can get exciting when that happens. Major League Baseball, looking to speed up the game by 12 seconds, ignores the potential excitement factor.

And then there is the occasional strategy behind tossing the ball for an intentional pass. One need only recall Rollie Fingers’ free pass to Johnny Bench during game 3 of the 1973 World Series:

While the change seems harmless, I suspect it will have unexpected side-effects. Since pitchers don’t have to make the four pitches for the intentional pass, their pitch counts are four pitches lower in a game than they might otherwise be. For pitchers on a count limit, that means pulling them four pitches later than they might have been pulled before. This might seem like a small thing, but those late game pitches can be the difference between a W or an L.

All of that is beside the point. There are other ways that Major League Baseball can speed up a baseball game, just as there are ways that the NFL can speed up a football game. How about cutting the number of commercials between half-innings. Cutting one 30-second spot between half-innings would save about 8 minutes, or forty times the savings the new intentional pass rule introduces into the game. If the argument is a speedier game will bring more eyes to advertising, then sacrificing 8 minutes per game for larger audience for advertisers to sell to seems to make sense.

How much you wanna bet Major League Baseball will take an intentional pass on this suggestion?

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