So, here’s the deal. Consider this post part of a fictional world where yours truly has just by some miracle been named Commissioner of Major League Baseball. The game is in its exact same state. I am now just the man sitting in the Commissioner’s Office, and not only that, but I have full autonomy. I am not shackled by the owners, players, or anyone else in terms of what I can do, although at times I will take their needs into account.
The first time that we got together on this topic, I spoke on the game’s finances and how we would invest in the game to make it a better and more appealing product for fans in the long run. You can find that here if you missed it. Today we are going to talk about the actual game on the field. Want to tell me how great my ideas are or how horribly wrong I am? Leave a comment of contact me on Twitter @DJLJR26.
Without further delay, part two of my open letter to the baseball world as Commissioner.
Hello Again, Baseball Fans Everywhere
Just one short week ago I unveiled my plan to improve baseball using our financial might in order to not just invest in our game to make it more competitive and compelling, but to also broker deals with organizations and businesses to make both Major League Baseball and baseball at large more popular, commonplace, and malleable to our fans’ needs.
Those plans continue today, but I would like to address you again and this time change focus to the actual game that is played on the field. When we last met, I specifically mentioned that I hoped a lot of the ancillary changes we could make around the game would make it more interesting; that keeping the essence of how the game is played now would be our default. I do, however, have some tweaks that I would like to administer to our already great game. Additionally, there have been a couple of ideas and proposals that have been talked about both by my predecessor and the public that we will NOT be moving forward with. I would like to address these and why we will not be enacting them as well.
It is my feeling that the change that will bring about the greatest sense of fan satisfaction would be for there to be more action in the game. Most people relate this to pace of play. It is my distinct belief that our game will not create more fans or viewers by shaving half an hour off of a 3-hour nightly time commitment. Football is on all but 2 days a week during its season (if you count all levels) and has just as long if not longer of a time commitment for each of its games. People will watch despite long run times if you give them action to watch. This is the essence of what pace of play should be about.
One out of the box observation I have made is that the factors that relate to less action, such as the current way teams value strikeouts and home runs, is directly related to how predictable the game has become. Team executives have been able to suss out the “metagame” in our sport like baseball is some cheap version of Call of Duty. This has led to that three true outcomes strategy, overemphasizing the tactics that are most overpowered.
I believe I have a simple way to throw teams off of their game. This is what we want. Under current conditions there is homogeny in strategy. Everyone knows the best strategy is to maximize sure-fire outs (strikeouts) and sure-fire runs (homers). In order to change this, we will look to our namesake- the baseball itself.
The one easily manipulated item on the field that can encourage change in strategy (as stated by Angels manager and free-thinker Joe Maddon) is the baseball. Furthermore, there is precedence for alterations to the baseball, dating back to the 1920s. For this reason, the league now reserves the right to change the standard seam height, core tightness, or roundedness of the baseball at any time, so long as it gives the teams one calendar year’s notice.
We are willing to give teams a warning that the game is going to change so they may strategize. They are investing millions in players and training techniques after all; however, they should not be surprised when next year’s optimal strategy is even just marginally different than this year’s because we have added drag, springiness or smoothness to the baseball, causing it to fly differently through the air both when it is hit and pitched.
To this point, allow me to announce that seam heights will be raised for the 2022 season to increase drag and discourage home runs. This will also aid pitchers grip of the baseball and likely give them more of an advantage. On its own, this may also lead to more strikeouts.
In turn, we will begin to strictly enforce the foreign substances rule on pitchers. Forgive the turn of phrase, but violation of this rule is practically an epidemic. Any violation of the rule will lead to a 40-game suspension for a first offense without pay. Second violations will be 80 games and third violations will be a full season. The league will also monitor pitcher’s spin rates for evidence of foreign substance use. We believe spin rate only changes by increasing artificial grip on the baseball. We will not suspend anyone just for having increased spin rates but will use this information as just cause to investigate a player in question.
Continuing with the theme of cheating, the 2017 World Series crown is hereby abdicated. We have no World Series champion for that season. Any future evidence of electronic devices being used for sign stealing will lead to minimum 40-game suspensions without pay for any personnel- players, coaches or executives- in question as well as forfeit of any games where the cheating has been proven to have been used.
Lastly on the question of cheating, any use of performance enhancing drugs moving forward will lead to a full season suspension without pay. A second offense will be a 2-season suspension and a 3rd would be a life-time ban. A first offense will also mean immediate banishment from Hall of Fame consideration. In relation to past users and their Hall of Fame eligibility, we can only control the now. We will continue to let the BBWAA voters make their best judgements on these individuals.
Now, allow me to now address some of those rule changes that our league has considered over the last couple of seasons, particularly during the COVID-19 protocol era.
The runner on 2nd base during extra innings rule will remain, but in an improved version. As I have described before, an additional man will be added to a team’s roster and on the lineup card for each game the manager will list a player as the Designated Runner. This runner will be the man who starts each extra inning on second base. He may also be used to pinch run before extra innings, but if his team elects to use him early the opposing team will then get to decide who will be on second base to start the extra innings- only choosing from bench players.
We will also keep 7-inning doubleheaders, but they will only be used in the name of making up postponed games where either or both teams don’t have a day off following the doubleheader. Also, in the name of doubleheaders, we plan to start scheduling one traditional doubleheader on Sundays per month for each team. These will always be followed by a rest day on Monday and a ticket for Game 1 will be good for Game 2 if the fan makes his or her intention to stay for Game 2 known at the time or purchase.
Major League rosters will be capped at 30 players for now but will move to 27 including the designated runner spot once we feel that the pandemic will no longer play a factor in teams’ needs for depth. September roster expansion will allow for a 30-man roster.
Going back to rules about pace of play, we will keep the mound visit limit. This hasn’t felt intrusive within the game whatsoever. Signals and sign language can do most of the communicating for our players and coaches on the field, especially since we are now taking sign stealing so seriously.
The three-batter minimum rule is also repealed. We are not going to tell managers how to use their rosters. However, we will be extending commercial breaks between innings by an additional 15 seconds and in turn the break for a mid-inning pitching change will be shortened by 30 seconds. Games admittedly get too slow when pitchers are getting switched out every few batters, this should help while hiding some of that advertising time during the regularly scheduled breaks in action.
In terms of the other rules that we will not be enacting:
We will not move to institute a pitch clock and we will not ban the shift. The comfort of our players on the field is just as important to quality of the game as pace of play is. If a batter needs that extra five seconds to sort himself before the next pitch, then he will have it. The shift has existed for more than a century and we do not want to discourage teams from innovating in terms of strategy. We feel our changes to the baseball will encourage players to create more contact without needing to change how players are allowed to line up on the field. I do, however, see how having fielders out of perfect position when the ball is being pitched could lead to more exciting, ranging plays in the field. If the changes I have already described don’t go far enough to get the desired effect in terms of in-game action, ending the shift may be on the table in the future.
I do have one more “gimmick” rule that we will implement, something that was suggested by Bill James a full decade ago.
Stolen bases can be some of the most exciting moments in a ballgame, but the parade of pickoff moves that can come before them is incredibly destructive to both pace of play and the encouragement of that stolen base attempt. We will implement a new rule that a pitcher may only attempt to pick off a runner three times during their current trip on the basepaths. That’s three attempts total, regardless of which base they are standing on. A 4th pickoff attempt would be considered a balk. We hope this will help the return of speed to our game as a strategy while providing further excitement and an additional wrinkle to the cat and mouse game that is holding runners on base.
It is my genuine hope that the changes we are going to implement will not be overly intrusive on an already great game. However, if we can just encourage more of that game action through some minor tweaks, I think the game and its fans are all the better for it.
Naturally, all of these changes need to be administered in an effective manner. In recognizing that, my next and last letter to you all will be about our league and its structure. We continue work on that right now and I cannot wait to get that information to you soon.
Until next time.
- Dan Lembke Jr, Hypothetical MLB Commissioner