MLB is taking hits, not getting hits

Baseball has numerous problems

Howard Simon
July 17, 2018 - 3:41 pm

Photo: Mitch Stringer - USA TODAY Sports

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Major League Baseball is having a rough season.

Strikeouts are up…again. The number of strikeouts has actually increased each of the last 11 years, but this season, the MLB is on pace for more strikeouts than hits for the first time in its history.

Batting averages are down. The use of defensive shifts are at an all time high. There are fewer balls in play than at any other point in major league history.

Attendance is down…again. It’s been falling steadily since 2007. Average attendance is just over 27,000, which would be the lowest figure for MLB since 1996.

So what should Major League Baseball do?

The answer is a sport that usually says this is how it's been done for more than 100 years and that’s how it will remain, should be open to anything and everything. Baseball is about tradition more than any other sport. It's almost like we grant baseball an exception to the rule that one must change with the times. But times change, and baseball has so much competition out there when it comes to getting people to watch games on television or spend money to come to the ballpark.

Despite all of the hand wringing about balls in play and shifts, pace of play remains the biggest problem. I’m not even a millennial and I believe they need to make games shorter. Baseball needs to find a way to get its average game time down to no more than two hours and 45 minutes. I know, when it comes to baseball we aren’t supposed to be checking our watch or phone. There’s no game clock in baseball, and part of the attraction of the sport has always been the casual pace, but who is willing to devote three hours or more to a game, 162 times a year?

We don’t mind spending three-plus hours watching the NFL or college football, but the NFL asks us to do it 16 times a season and college football wants 12 commitments for our favorite team each year. The NHL and NBA can get us in and out of a game in 2:15-2:30, and those schedules are half as long as baseball. 

If it were up to me, I’d start by knocking about 20 games off the schedule. The season starts too early and ends too late. I know this messes with the sacred baseball record books, but you have to change with the times. They might want to consider another wild card spot in an attempt to keep more teams in contention later in the season. If you shorten the season, you can use those dates to expand your playoffs. How about three wild card teams in each league? The two division winners with the best record get a first round bye. The low division winners and the three wild card teams play a best of five series and the two winners join the two teams with a bye in Round 2.

Back to pace of play. The pitch clock in-between innings and during warm ups after a pitching change is a good start, but how about a full-time pitch clock? Have a clock in place for every pitch to keep the pitcher from working too slowly and/or keep the batter from stepping out of the box too much.

I never thought I’d want a rule that affects the way someone manages the game, but how about a limit to the number of pitching changes? One of the most infuriating things in baseball is watching a left-handed reliever come in to pitch to one batter. You could have three pitching changes in one half of an inning because of righty/lefty matchups. Managers over-manage their bullpens and I’m tired of a constant procession to and from the mound.

Scale back on instant replay while you’re at it. I’m not sure how much this really affects the average time of a game, but baseball went too far with replay. Too many things are reviewable and the replays take too long to decide, but it seems like all of the sports are dealing with similar troubles when it comes to replay.

I’m not really anti-shift, but if you want to outlaw it, that's fine. There is a certain frustration to watching a left-handed batter ground out or line out to short right field.

Lower ticket prices. The average ticket price this season is over $32. Throw in parking, food, drink, souvenirs if you are bringing kids to the game and you have yourself an expensive night or day out. There are 81 home games every season, so bring the ticket prices down. Thank goodness for the secondary market. Earlier this month, it cost me $9 a ticket to see the Mets in Toronto. There’s something to be said for picking a game where both teams are out of the pennant race.

You want to promote offense? Stop letting pitchers hit. The designated hitter, as much as I despised it when it came into being, is long overdue in the National League. NL pitchers are hitting under .120 this season. Pitchers batting is as exciting as NFL kick returns these days.

Oh yeah, before I forget, let the Mets be in the playoffs every season. Ok, maybe thats a bit too much.

Get to work Major League Baseball because you have some serious work to do.

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