Originally Published: September 4, 2018 noon
A pair of academics have proposed a radical change to save baseball which is guaranteed to make traditionalists apoplectic.
Before we review the proposal, we should first ask whether baseball needs saving. There are two major gripes from critics. First, the game is too slow, averaging more than three hours in four of the past five years. Second, critics have decried the lack of competition due to “tanking,” the practice of not playing to win in order to secure a higher draft position.
That gives teams the opportunity to draft the best talent, thereby becoming competitive more quickly and cheaply.
But a sport that generates north of $10 billion per year, more than any league this side of the NFL, and climbing, hardly seems a candidate for resuscitation. Nevertheless, Steven J. Brams, a professor in New York University’s Department of Politics, and computer scientist Aaron Isaksen have voluntarily come to the rescue.
Their suggestion, dubbed the “Catch Up Rule,” is fairly simple. So long as a game is tied, each team has three outs per inning. If one team goes ahead in a game, they only get two outs per inning, including the inning they take the lead, while their opponent continues to have three.
When Isaksen applied the Catch Up Rule to more than 100,000 games over the last 50 years, he came up with two consistent findings. One, the games became more competitive. The average margin of victory dropped from 3.21 runs per game to 2.15. Second, due to a reduction in the number of outs per nine-inning game, the average game time dropped by 24 minutes, thus satisfying MLB’s initiative to improve pace of play.
Will the Catch up Rule be adopted? Don’t count on it. It will require approval by owners and the union, parties who can’t agree on much of anything these days. Furthermore, the change would play havoc with player statistics, the sine qua non of baseball that separates it from other sports.
While MLB has championed a pitch clock, it doesn’t have to go there. Just enforce the existing rules.
For example, Rule 5.07 (c) states, with the bases empty, the pitcher has 12 seconds from the time he receives the ball to throw it. The average pitch pace in 2018 is closer to 24 seconds. Umpires don’t enforce the rule because they don’t want to be the bad guys.
The average game time increased 35 minutes between 1984 and 2014. But if pitchers emulated Mark Buehrle, we could shave most of those 35 minutes off today’s game.
According to a 2014 study by Jeff Sullivan published on FanGraphs.com, Buehrle averaged 17.3 seconds between pitches while the MLB average was nearly six seconds higher.
With approximately 300 pitches thrown per game, Buehrle’s approach would reduce game times by 30 minutes.
Off course, hitters also have rules about stepping into and remaining in the batter’s box. Enforce those, along with time between pitches, and eureka, problem solved! There’s no need to adopt the radical Catch Up Rule.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.