Five Little Tweaks to Make Baseball Even More Perfecter

Baseball doesn’t need to be “fixed.” But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t use some tweaks. Seemingly every year, Mike Trout identifies a part of his game that isn’t as good as he wants it to be, and then he fixes it. In 2015, it was his susceptibility to high fastballs. Once it was his arm strength. Or stolen bases. Or defense.

So if Mike Trout, who is in the conversation for best player ever, can work to improve, surely the game of baseball, for all its beauty and majesty, should be open to tweaks, right?

I’m not interested in anything that reduces the actual amount of baseball, so get out of here with your seven-inning games or three-ball walks. I know it’s uncouth to quote yourself, but I’ve linked to articles from six other people already, so I’m okay with it. Here’s what I said four years ago:

I’m not the first to say this, and I won’t be the last, but the problem is not, and never has been, that games are too long. The problem is that the games are too slow.

As a lifelong, diehard baseball fan, the last thing I want to see is less baseball played. I root for extra innings at every game I go to because it’s free baseball. I’d root even harder for extras if the first nine only took 2:30.

I’m also not overly interested in anything so drastic that it would require a new “Era,” so moving the mound back or changing the size of home plate don’t do much for me. But I have some suggested tweaks for Major League Baseball. Not all of them are related to pace-of-play. Just general tweaks that would make the game even more enjoyable than it already is. Baseball is already the Mike Trout of sports; let’s teach it how to hit the high fastball.

Remove loopholes from mound visit limit

Last year, MLB institute a limit on mound visits, whether by a catcher, a coach, or an infielder. If Gary Sanchez goes out to talk to CC Sabathia, it’s a mound visit. If Corey Seager runs in to chit chat with Clayton Kershaw to make sure he knows the signs, it’s a mound visit. If Mike Maddux goes out to see how Adam Wainwright is feeling, it’s a mound visit. In the ninth inning of a 2017 game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers, D-Backs catcher Chris Iannetta stopped giving signs to closer Fernando Rodney as soon as Dodgers shortstop Chris Taylor reached second base. Iannetta proceeded to make seven visits to the mound in the final 15 pitches of the game. According to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, the D-Backs made a total of 19 mound visits in that game.

The change worked. There were noticeably fewer mound visits last year. But it could be better. You see, right now, a pitching change doesn’t count as a mound visit. Instinctively, that makes sense — you don’t want to put a hard limit on the number of pitching changes a team can make. But that’s not what this would do — it would just limit the number of mid-inning pitching changes a team can make.

That’s not so bad, is it? There have been discussions this offseason about much more explicit ways of limiting mid-inning pitching changes, most notably imposing a three-batter minimum on all pitchers. I prefer this way, where managers still have the freedom to make those pitching changes, but they have to weigh it against the overall cost, and it’s possible to run out. Most likely it would mean far fewer early mid-inning changes, saving the mound visits for later in the game. It would also mean fewer mound visits early in games, and most likely fewer overall visits as a result. It would add a bit of strategy to the game, and every once in a while we’d see a pitcher just imploding but having to stay on the mound because his catcher kept getting crossed up on signs in the second inning or something. (And by the way, I’m fine with injury exemptions, as long as the “injured” player is required to go on the injured list after being removed.)

Make the top seed choose their Division Series opponent

Right now, the team with the best record in the league plays the winner of the Wild Card game in the Division Series, and the second- and third-best division winners play each other. Often, this is just fine. But sometimes, it’s not quite fair. Last year, the Boston Red Sox were rewarded for their 108-win season with an ALDS matchup against … the 100-win New York Yankees. Meanwhile, the 103-win Houston Astros got to play the Cleveland Indians, who won just 91 games despite having three Little League teams in their division. I think it worked out for the Red Sox — I’m a Dodger fan, so my memory is hazy on exactly what happened in October — but don’t you think the Red Sox would have rather played the Indians than the Yankees in the first round?

Or, more to the point, don’t you think they should have had to make that decision? One thing we know about baseball players is that they would not want to make this choice. That’s why my suggestion is not to allow them to make it — it’s to require it. Imagine the Indians’ bulletin board material if they knew for a fact that the Red Sox had chosen to play them instead of one of the other teams. For that matter, imagine the bulletin board material in the next series, when they go up against one of the two teams they didn’t choose! It would be like Sparky Anderson yelling to Kirk Gibson, “He don’t wanna walk you!”

There would be all sorts of potential for gamesmanship here: “We think Team X is our biggest threat, and we think Team Y has the best chance of beating them, so we’ll take Team Z.” Or even much more simple deductions: “Team X only made the Wild Card, but their star player missed half the season and now he’s back and healthy, so we’d rather play one of the division winners.”

I want more drama between teams. I want stronger rivalries. Let’s make it happen.

Make it illegal to throw too hard

Look, this one is ridiculous, and I know it. But I am endlessly intrigued by it, so I’m mentioning it anyway. Here are the rules:

  1. Anything over 94 miles per hour is deemed an “illegal pitch.”
  2. Like in slow-pitch softball, where pitches have to be at least six feet high and no higher than 12 feet, the penalty for an illegal pitch is a ball.
  3. Also like in those softball leagues, the batter has the option of swinging anyway. If he swings, the illegality of the pitch is null and void.

Imagine the impact! Pitchers would go deeper in games, because they wouldn’t be worn out from trying to throw 100 all the time. Strikeouts would go down, and balls in play would go up. Pitchers would be forced to develop secondary pitches, and more skilled pitchers would have an advantage over “throwers.”

Then you’d have the mind games. Pitchers would often throw 95 or 96, knowing that batters won’t be able to tell the difference and might swing anyway. Hitters would be watching velocities from the on-deck circle — “He’s thrown three straight 96-mph fastballs, so I’m looking offspeed and just taking the fastball.”

It won’t happen. The union would never agree to a rule that puts specific players out of work. It’s one thing to agree to a rule with general benefits and drawbacks, but saying, “Okay, Jordan Hicks, you no longer have a job,” is probably not gonna happen. But you can imagine what it’d be like if they did, right?

Get the best players in the postseason!

Mike Trout has played three career postseason games. Jacob deGrom was the best pitcher in baseball last year, and he spent October on his couch. Ted Williams and Ernie Banks played seven combined postseason games.

When the regular season ends, 10 teams are still in the hunt for the World Series title. Let those 10 teams choose, best record first, one non-playoff player each to add to their postseason roster. Do the Red Sox take Trout, even though they have Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Andrew Benintendi in the outfield, with J.D. Martinez needing a defensive position for three games if they make the World Series? Does a Wild Card team take the best player available, or do they go for a starting pitcher who might be able to pitch them to victory in the Wild Card game to get them to the Division Series?

Some of the possible benefits?

  • It would guarantee that more of the game’s biggest stars get to shine on the biggest stage.
  • It would reward players financially for great seasons, because they’d obviously get a full postseason share along with all their temporary teammates.
  • It would incentivize teams to play their best right through to the end so they could earn the first pick.
  • It could benefit worse teams in free agency, with players knowing they would still have a shot at the postseason even if the team they signed with didn’t make it.
  • It would increase the odds that the best team would actually win the World Series, which have gone down as more teams and shorter series have been added to the postseason.

Make pitchers verbally state why they are intentionally walking a batter

You want to IBB a guy? No problem. Grab a mic. “I, Jordan Lyles, do hereby choose to intentionally walk Matt Carpenter. I do this because I am a right-handed pitcher and he is a left-handed hitter, and as you can see, Harrison Bader is on second base and first base is open. I know that there are two outs, so I’m not setting up a double play or anything like that. I just like my chances a lot more to get Yadier Molina out than to get Carpenter right now. Take your base, Mr. Carpenter.”

It would slow down the game, sure. But only when intentional walks were issued. And you have to imagine that the number of IBBs would go down, right? I mean, if a pitcher actually had to say, “I think the guy up next isn’t as good as you,” surely they’re going to think at least twice, right?

In fact, let’s take it one step further. If you walk a guy on four pitches, you have to explain yourself. “Look, Matt, you and I both know that Molina isn’t as good as you this year. There’s no way I was gonna give you something to hit.”

If pitchers are afraid to challenge hitters, let’s hit them in their pride.

So, those are my suggestions for baseball. Obviously, some of them are more serious than others, but I think all of them would make baseball better and more interesting. What are your ideas?

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