Half-Baked Ideas: Baseball

Major League Baseball games are too long, especially during the postseason. Lengthy commercial breaks and players slowing down the game as the pressure mounts in later innings take the designed, leisurely pace of the game and grind it to a halt. Because of the very nature of the game, changing things to speed up the game is difficult without altering the game too much. How much is too much is up for debate, but baseball is more than just the sum of its rules. More than any other sport, baseball’s past is still relevant to players’ and fans’ senses of the sport. It is a game hostile to disruptions of its core elements, leading it to grow increasingly anachronistic as time goes on. It’s a sport ripe for some half-baked ideas.

Baseball is timeless, except when it’s the ninth inning on a Wednesday night and one needs to be up early in the morning. The second hands continue to tick, one’s bedtime having come and gone. The mental compromises are being made. “Fifteen more minutes and I can still get enough sleep.” “Okay, I’ll be a little groggy tomorrow but I don’t have any killer meetings or anything.” Then, horror of horrors, the tying run crosses home plate and the game heads to extra innings. Now it’s late, and getting later.

Baseball games can keep going and going and going. The longest game I ever went to was 18 innings. It was interminable. For me, it was an exercise in endurance, stubbornness, and boredom. I paid for that damn ticket and I wasn’t leaving until I saw a winner. In retrospect, that’s silly. During the regular season, ties are an acceptable outcome to a sporting event. So my first half-baked idea to shorten baseball games is to place a limit on innings. A regular game would still consist of nine innings of play, but extra innings would be limited to three. That gives teams the chance to go through their orders one more time to try and win. If, after 12 innings, there is no winner, the game ends in a tie. That’s it, folks, go home, change the channel, go to bed.

I like this idea a lot because during the regular season, by the time the 12th inning rolls around, I usually don’t care who wins a game. I just want it to be over. Any 12-inning contest has probably broken the four-hour mark in length. It’s just not that important at that point to keep playing. Wrap it up. Newspapers and websites can handle having another column in the standings. Hockey and soccer have been doing it for decades. In the postseason, of course, have at it. Keep playing and keep us poor Eastern Time Zone residents up all night.

The above is more of a practical rule change than a crazy idea, and one that could actually be implemented after a decade or two of sportswriters pleading for it. Considering no one has been clamoring for this change, I think we can expect to see it sometime around 2054.

This next idea is a radical restructuring of the game — pure fantasy — but that’s what half-baked ideas are about, right?

A nine-inning game with a total of 27 outs for a side means each spot in the lineup gets at least three plate appearances. It’s perfect. But getting lots of hits lengthens the game, and is this article, that’s bad. So, instead of the number of innings being the determiner of the game, we switch to the number of plate appearances being the determiner. Here’s how it would work.

A baseball game would still consist of three-out innings. But the total number of plate appearances a team gets is 27. If, after 27 plate appearances, a team has more runs scored than the other, they win. This is a little hard to picture, so let’s apply this idea to this year’s World Series game 5, inning by inning:

Inn. CLE CHI
1 inning batters 3 3
total batters 3 3
score 0 0
2 inning batters 4 4
total batters 7 7
score 1 0
3 inning batters 3 3
total batters 10 10
score 1 0
4 inning batters 3 8
total batters 13 18
score 1 3
5 inning batters 4 5
total batters 17 23
score 1 3
6 inning batters 4 3
total batters 21 26
score 2 3
7 inning batters 5 1
total batters 26 27
score 2 3
After this inning, Cleveland has had 26 plate appearances and is down by a run. In the top of the 8th, if the 1-run difference holds, Cleveland can only send one batter to the plate, and he has to hit a home run or the game is over. Chicago sent 5 batters to the plate in this inning. But in my half-baked idea, they would have exhausted their 27 plate appearances after the leadoff hitter, so that would have been the end of the inning. Unless Cleveland tied the game in the next inning, there would be no more Chicago hitters for the remainder of the game.
8 inning batters 1 x
total batters 27 27
score 2 3
Yan Gomes was Cleveland’s leadoff hitter this inning, and he struck out. Since he was Cleveland’s 27th plate appearance, this would have been the end of the game.

This would have been fantastic. The game would have ended at a decent hour, and I wouldn’t have had to sit through another five outs of Chicago closer Aroldis Chapman’s antics on the mound. That guy is such a head case that he makes literally millions of people wait extended periods for him to be ready to throw a pitch.

Anyway, that’s what a fairly typical low-scoring game would look like with a maximum of 27 plate appearances per side. Had Gomes hit a home run and tied the game, there would have been extra innings. The game just keeps going until there’s a winner. For the postseason, where there has to be a winner, that’s fine. But for the regular season, that has the potential to create lengthy games. Instead, I would just add another 9 plate appearances. After that, game over, even if it’s a tie.

But what about high scoring games? How would those be affected by my half-baked idea? To answer that, I looked back and found a high scoring contest from the league’s top run scoring team from this past season, the Boston Red Sox.

On September 2rd of this year, the Red Sox beat up on the Athletics 16-2. Here’s how that game would have played out with maximum 27 batters per side:

Inn. BOS OAK
1 inning batters 5 3
total batters 5 3
score 1 0
2 inning batters 4 4
total batters 9 7
score 1 0
3 inning batters 5 3
total batters 14 10
score 2 0
4 inning batters 3 6
total batters 17 16
score 2 2
5 inning batters 8 3
total batters 25 19
score 6 2
6 inning batters 2 4
total batters 27 23
score 6 2
Boston really broke the game open in this inning, but with my new rules, Jackie Bradley Jr., the second batter in the inning, would have been the 27th and last for Boston, and the score would have remained 6-2 instead of ballooning to 12-2, on its way to the final score of 16-2.
7 inning batters x 1
total batters 27 24
score 6 2

And that’s it. Game over. After the first batter in the 7th, Stephen Vogt, struck out looking, that would have left Oakland with a 4-run deficit with only three batters remaining, so the game would have ended. A game that, as played, took 3 hours and 27 minutes would have been over in the 7th inning. Boston would have sent 27 batters to the plate, and Oakland 24. The new rules also would have wiped 10 Boston runs and 20 Boston plate appearances off the books. That’s what makes this idea such a radical departure from the normal structure of the game. At first, this may seem to have disadvantaged the Red Sox, but that’s not so. Boston used their 27 plate appearances in a more effective manner than Oakland, by scoring 6 runs with them to Oakland’s 2. In the current rule set, they used their 27 allotted outs more effectively, scoring 16 runs to Oakland’s 2. The team that plays a better game still comes out on top, and we all get to go to bed at a decent hour.

Here’s another example, taken from the first game on ESPN’s scoreboard on July 4th, which was a 1-0 win by the Brewers over the Nationals:

Inn. MIL WAS
1 inning batters 3 3
total batters 3 3
score 0 0
2 inning batters 4 5
total batters 7 8
score 0 0
3 inning batters 5 3
total batters 12 11
score 0 0
4 inning batters 3 3
total batters 15 14
score 0 0
5 inning batters 5 3
total batters 20 17
score 1 0
6 inning batters 6 5
total batters 26 22
score 1 0
7 inning batters 1 3
total batters 27 25
score 1 0
Milwaukee would have exhausted their 27 plate appearance after the leadoff hitter.
8 inning batters x 2
total batters 27 27
score 1 0
Washington had two plate appearances left, and a 1-run deficit. After the 2nd batter lined out, the game would have ended.

Despite this being a 1-run game with a total of 7 hits, this game still managed to break the 3-hour mark. The new rules would have eliminated 15 plate appearances from this game, creating a significant shortening.

The fact of the matter is baseball games are too long because there’s too much baseball happening during a game. This rule set switches the game’s measure of progression from outs to plate appearances. I bet it would drop the average length of games from 25-30 minutes — maybe even more. Most baseball fans, and certainly the purists, would never go for such an idea, which is what makes it half-baked. But I can dream, can’t I?

Finally, let’s end this post with a more practical rule change, but one that would probably be just as acrimonious.

Tony La Russa changed the way managers handle pitching matchups late in games. He was the manager that pioneered using as many pitchers as possible in a game, something longtime baseball writer Bill Madden, formerly of the New York Daily News, called ‘the endless search for the guy who doesn’t have it.’

Pitching changes lengthen games. So, my idea is to limit pitching changes. A team gets to use three pitchers during a game — a starter, a middle reliever, and a closer. That’s it. Should a team require a fourth pitcher, due to injury, giving up a ton of hits, or other circumstances, then they would have to go to bat in the next inning with two outs already on the board. If it’s the bottom of the ninth, say, and a team will not bat again, then a fourth pitcher would result in the opposing team having a pinch runner placed on 2nd base. Rewards and punishments for this rule change would require more refinement than I’m willing to go into for this article, but readers should get the point.

Ideas like this come into my head when I watch baseball because there’s so much fricking time to think of them. I’ve been a baseball fan for so long that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a baseball fan, but the game’s demands on a person’s time are unreasonable. Maybe my half-baked ideas could make a difference.