So, Major League Baseball came out with a rule change yesterday. Instead of making a pitcher throw four balls during an intentional walk, the manager will simply signal the umpire to have the batter take his base.
Honestly? The idea doesn’t really bother me. There’s probably no good reason to make a pitcher actually go through the motions of throwing four balls high and away. I’m not sure it will affect the game beyond the “That’s the way it’s always been” argument. That’s always a terrible argument, so I feel OK ignoring it.
There are some complaints about it floating around. And, they do have some merit. Some people point out the times that a player has swung at an intentional walk pitch. Or, the times a pitcher has thrown a wild intentional walk pitch. Or, when a team has faked an intentional walk in order to strike a batter out. If the intentional walk becomes automatic, those plays will never happen again.
That’s absolutely true.
Problem is, they never really happened before. Not that often, at least. I saw a list online (so it must be true) saying that around a dozen times in baseball history a player has gotten a hit off an intentional walk. (I swear Mike Greenwell knocked a double off the Wall on an attempted intentional walk…but that wasn’t on the list.) Whether they had a comprehensive list or not, that seems about right. It’s not like it happens even once a year. And the fake intentional walk? I can think of two. Johnny Bench in the World Series, and Jimy Williams trying it against Chipper Jones. Now, it’s possible there were more that we can’t research because it just goes in the books as a strikeout (or in the case of Jones, an attempted strikeout. He wasn’t fooled.) But, the facts are, it’s not a lot. Again, way less than once a year.
Now, a pitcher throwing a wild pitch? That probably happens more often. But, I guess I’m OK with that. I fall back to wanting the better team to win. And, yes you could say that the better team is the one that doesn’t throw a ball to the backstop. But, that just seems more like “chance” to me. It’s not like you draft a guy knowing he “makes good intentional walk pitches” or a team should know not to have a guy try to intentionally walk someone. So, I feel that it’s different than, say, fumbling a ball in the super bowl. The Patriots made a play to cause a fumble. Conversely, if they lost the game by fumbling a kick, after having trouble with that all year, that’s something they should have coached. If, however, Brady just takes his three step drop, and just drops the ball untouched for who knows why…that’s a whole different thing. Isn’t it?
Which is a long way of saying that I don’t like fluke plays deciding games. So, if the only reason to keep the four pitch intentional walk is because once a year the ball might slip out of a pitcher’s hand, I say get rid of it.
My problem with the change? The reason they gave behind it. Pace of play. Seriously? Of all the changes they could have made, they make a fundamental change to the rules in order to save, on average, 20 seconds a game? We’re still going to allow managers to visit the mound just to stall in order to give their reliever time to warm up, but we’re changing a rule to remove a walk. Managers still stand at the top step of the dugout waiting for a review before challenging a play. But, to save time we’re changing the walk. We still have a million ads being shown between each half inning. But, instead MLB changes a long-time rule.
That’s the part that bothers me.
Sure, twenty seconds are twenty seconds. And it’s an easy twenty seconds to cut. But, there are other ways to trim the game that don’t affect core rules. Even core rules that don’t amount to anything. That’s the part that bothers me. Go ahead and do it. Don’t do it for a stupid reason.
Especially to speed up games.