The Dallas Morning News
Tick, tock: What’s next?
New clock rules are first phase of changes; more are in works
Robot umpires. A strike zone that looks more like a stop sign than a rectangle. Allowing the batter to take off for first base on any pitch, not just a dropped third strike.
With the new pitch clock speeding up the sport, baseball’s brain trust already is trying to figure out what might come next in its efforts to make games more exciting and keep them moving along.
And the people running the sport are using the same kind of number-crunching analytics that caused the problem to solve the problem.
“This is Phase One. There probably is more coming,” Major League Baseball executive vice president Morgan Sword said Friday at the MIT Sloan School Sports Analytics Conference. “But with every single one of these things, we’ve always tried to [ask]: ‘Is this a reasonable change that baseball fans are going to support, or are we veering toward something that’s not baseball anymore?’
“It’s a very subjective skill,” Sword said. “There’s lots of things that would work that would just irritate people too much to make it worth it.”
The MIT conference began in 2007 as a small gathering of stat nerds who believed they had found a better way to measure everything from free agent signings to when to go for it on fourth down. It’s now a 2,200-person conclave that fills a downtown convention center with powerful people.
Over the years, some of the strategies the statisticians came up with to help a team win also changed the nature of games. In basketball, that meant players attempting 3-pointers at an unprecedented rate; in baseball, it led to a game that has gotten longer.
The average time of a nine-inning game has stretched from 2 hours, 30 minutes in the mid-1950s to 2:46 in 1989 and 3:10 in 2021.
Statistics pioneer Bill James said “it’s past time” for those running the national pastime to fight back. And he praised them for using the nerds’ own numbers to do it.
“In a sense, the game is a war between the front offices, who are trying to figure out a way to make the game slow and boring, and [league officials] who are trying to figure out a way to make it fast and exciting,” he said.
Sword said the commissioner’s office worked backward from surveys that showed fans want more action and less time waiting for events to happen. MLB tested dozens of possible solutions in the minor leagues during the past two years and some proved impractical.
The results after almost a week of spring training: Game times are down about 24 minutes from last year’s Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. Violations in which the umpire awards an automatic ball or strike are being called at a rate of 1.63 per game, compared with 1.7 when it was tested in the minor leagues last year.
AROUND THE MAJORS
Toronto: 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. left Friday’s spring training game against Tampa Bay because of right knee discomfort. Guerrero walked toward the clubhouse with an athletic trainer in the second inning.