In the latest example of people not understanding the difference between “pace of play” and “length of game,” Minor League Baseball has implemented a pace-of-play rule that will have zero impact on the actual pace of play. Beginning this season, at all levels of the minor leagues, each extra inning will begin with a runner on second base.
A similar rule was experimented with in the World Baseball Classic last year, to somewhat mixed reviews. While it was successful in preventing extra-inning games from lasting too many innings, there were many valid complaints that it took a lot of excitement away from the game. In the WBC, each inning after the 10th started with runners on first and second. That meant that most extra innings started with a sacrifice bunt followed by an intentional walk — two of the least exciting plays in baseball. If the powers that be really wanted to address things, they would have cut out the middle man and just started each inning with bases loaded and one out.
The rule as implemented in MiLB is different in two key ways: it applies to every inning after the ninth, and it is just a runner on second base. But two inherent problems remain:
1. It encourages boring baseball.
Many extra innings will begin with an intentional walk to put runners on first and second. At that point, it is first and second, no outs, which is exactly the same as the WBC rules. So the intentional walk will be followed by a sacrifice bunt, which might then be followed by another intentional walk. We’ve now had three batters, zero action, and there are three runners on base. Two of the batters have been told, “Please go to first base; we don’t want to pitch to you.” The other batter has told his opponents, “Please get me out; I’d rather not play.” Thrilling!
2. It fundamentally changes the way the game is played.
Is it okay to quote yourself in an article? I hope so, because I’m about to. Here is what I wrote last year about the WBC rules:
My big issue with this rule is simple: it makes the end of the game a totally different contest than the rest. It’s like a soccer game being decided by penalty kicks — forget all that running and passing and ball-handling and strategy; all that matters now is how good you are at penalty kicks. In last night’s game, [Loek] van Mil got a great hitter to hit into a double play in a key situation, and his reward was seeing that great hitter standing on second base the next inning. A pitcher has two jobs: keep the ball in the ballpark, and keep the other team off the bases. If he does those two things, he will not allow any runs. Unless … well, you know.
Like I said, I understand why they have this rule. And like I also said, it is having the desired effect. But the three plays in the game-winning “rally” were a sac bunt, and intentional walk, and a shallow fly out to center field.
All that said, I don’t actually mind this change in Minor League Baseball. Again quoting myself from last year:
The logic behind the extra-inning rule is clear: this tournament is essentially an exhibition, and no one wants a situation where a pitcher gets hurt because he was the last arm in the bullpen and had to throw 80 pitches in a 19-inning exhibition game. So they made a rule that would make it easier to score in extra innings and thereby shorten the games. Last night was the third time the new rules have been implemented in the tournament, and it was the third time the 11th inning produced a winner. Hey, the rule works!
The minor leagues are not exactly an exhibition, but those teams are at least as concerned with player development as they are with winning. I’d probably prefer some other solution that declares a tie after a certain inning, or perhaps some way to destigmatize a team saying, “We’re out of pitchers; we forfeit.” But as a way to prevent a young, inexperienced, underpaid pitcher from blowing his arm out because he unexpectedly had to throw 85 pitches out of the bullpen, I don’t really mind this rule.
The problem is that they frame it as a “pace-of-play” rule.
Pace-of-play concerns are about keeping the game exciting. What baseball is (or should be) trying to eliminate is time spent standing around, being boring. Is the solution to that problem really an exponential increase in sac bunts and intentional walks? Come on, now.
This rule will help shorten games — it will not help speed them up. If a person wants to lose weight, he can either diet and exercise, or he can cut off one of his legs. By touting this rule change as a pace-of-play measure, MiLB is inviting thoughtful individuals to push back against it. This is especially true because Major League Baseball is also concerned about pace of play, so people naturally worry that this rule — which is fine for leagues or tournaments in which winning is not the most important thing — will come to the big leagues, where it would be a terrible, disastrous idea.
What Minor League Baseball should have announced was this: “In an effort to prevent injuries to young, developing pitchers caused by games that unexpectedly go too many innings, we are implementing this rule.” By announcing it as a pace-of-play issue, they have earned every bit of pushback they are receiving.