Take away tank talk
has created an environment where launch angle is king and batters are trying to lift the ball over the defense rather than the hit-em-where-they-ain’t strategy we grew up with. And if you’re trying to undercut the ball to hit it over the defense — or over the fence — what are you more likely to also do? Swing and miss.
Here’s a possible fix: Draw a vertical line from second base to the top of the dirt. Two infielders must be on each side of the line. Period. None of this three guys on the right side, with the second baseman in short right field and the third baseman standing behind second base.You say the shift is strategy. I say that’s not baseball. We want offense, we have to cut way back on the shifts, which we’re seeing now at Bisons games because scouting reports on prospects have filtered down to the minor leagues.
The independent Atlantic League is testing rules this year in conjunction with MLB and two infielders on each side of second is one of the changes. There’s more that can be done. The Atlantic League also is moving the mound back two feet. Someday, MLB may have to lower the mound like it did in 1969 to help offenses.
How about the proposal that pitchers must face three batters? It would effectively be the end of the LOOGY (left-handed one out guy) that is now a fixture in every bullpen but causes delays in the game with interminable pitching changes. We only had 42 complete games last season. Starting pitchers averaged less than 5 1/2 inning per start. Every guy comes out of the bullpen firing 95 mph and they’re always fresh. Bad news for offense.
The Rays started the trend of “The Opener” last year and the worst thing that happened was they won 90 games. Now even the Yankees rumbled in spring training about going the route of piecing a game together with relievers at times rather than a No. 4 or No. 5 starter.
“Repeated pitching changes obviously take a lot of time,” Manfred said last month following owners meetings in Florida.
“They affect the pace of the game. That’s one rationale. I think the idea of relievers having to go longer is appealing in terms of promoting the role of the starting pitcher, encouraging pitchers to pitch a little longer at the beginning of the game. You talk about player marketing. Historically, some of our biggest stars are starting pitchers, and you want to make sure those big stars are out there long enough that they are marketed, recognizable.”
Manfred also needs some anti-tanking initiatives. Reward teams who come close to the playoffs and just miss, and don’t reward the teams clearly hoping to lose 100-plus games to get top draft picks. That damages fandom in cities with decades of great tradition. What’s there to watch this summer in wonderful baseball towns like Baltimore, Detroit or Kansas City? And don’t get me started on what’s going on in Miami.
“Unless you’re a die-hard fan and you’ve got a date or you just want to get hammered on $9 beers, it’s hard to see why you’d keep going to the games of some teams,” Astros outfielder Josh Reddick told the New York Times a couple of weeks ago. “It’s a bummer because you are supposed to want to win games.”
Maybe the worst thing to happen to baseball was the back-to-back World Series titles by the Cubs (2016) and Astros (2017). In those two long-suffering markets, the championships were a celebration after decades of waiting, but it gave too many other teams the idea that tanking is the quick fix to winning.
And while the Cubs and Astros both acquired high draft picks because they were terrible, they actually became winners by augmenting Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa with savvy moves around them.In Chicago, think of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Aroldis Chapman, David Ross, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell. In Houston, ponder the acqusitions of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Justin Verlander. The international free agent signing of Jose Altuve. It’s not remotely all tanking.
It’s a problem. It seems baseball is full of them these days. Good luck to Manfred fixing them all and keeping labor peace with the players. He has lots of hard work ahead.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has given up on the idea of adding a pitch clock to Major League Baseball games, but expect the idea to resurface in a couple of years.