Playing with Fire: Limiting Relief Pitchers

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred wants to generate more interest in baseball among casual fans. To that end, he has proposed measures to shorten the length of games. One such idea involves pitchers. Manfred’s proposition is that managers be limited with respect to the number of relief pitchers that may be used in a game. His supposition is that the games are just too darned long, and that part of the problem is all those pitching changes.

Well, let’s have a look at this. In the first place, games have been increasing in length since clubs started applying sabermetric-driven practices into games. These include limiting pitchers based on their pitch count (we never used to count pitches), and encouraging hitters to go deep into counts, taking lots of pitches, because the stats show that the longer an at-bat lasts, the more likely the hitter is to get on base, and the more baserunners you get, the more runs you score. Naturally, when at-bats last longer, and when you get more baserunners, games last longer. A lot longer. In fact, each baserunner extends the length of the game by at least 3-5 minutes, sometimes much longer. Also, forcing the starter to throw more pitches means that he hits his magic 100 pitch maximum sooner, and you get into the bullpen. Even though relievers are better than they were 10 years ago, driving the starter from the game still gives you a better chance to win. Under these conditions, managers have had no choice but to use more pitchers in a game.

Limiting the use of relievers could actually have the opposite of its intended effect. If you force managers to stay with pitchers that are fatigued, or whose “number” the hitters have, then you will get more walks, more hits, meaning more batters, and taking up more time. In fact, it’s quite possible that this proposed rule could actually make the games longer rather than shorter.

If you really want to shorten the game, you need to reduce the number of baserunners by making it harder to get on base. Perhaps expanding the strike zone to where it was in the 60s, or raising the mound to its pre-1966 level. Heck, maybe we could go back to the wooden-core balls of the deadball era.

But we need more hitting and running to attract casual fans, says MLB management. Well, more hitting and running means more baserunners, and more baserunners mean longer games. So, the aim of shortening games and increasing scoring are in opposition, and this rule makes the situation no better.

So, stop monkeying around with the game, and let the players and managers sort it out.


1 Comment

Filed under Baseball policy, Major League Baseball, mlb

One response to “Playing with Fire: Limiting Relief Pitchers

  1. mhasegawa

    I agree!

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