Sunday, May 22, 2016

Yer Out!

Sportswriter Joe Posnanski offers his opinion on a couple of proposed rule changes in major league baseball.

One is to raise the bottom of the strike zone a little to see if it will reduce the number of strikeouts. While pitchers and managers are big fans of strikeouts, hitters and paying customers are less so. Every fan likes a great pitcher's duel once in awhile, but a steady diet of whiffed dreams does not sit well with those who want to see the ball go places -- either over the fence, when their team is at bat, or into an outfielder's stretching arms, if the opponent is.

Posnanski says that this rule change might do what the competition committee hopes it will do. It might also lead to a string of walks -- which is just about as boring as a string of strikeouts -- or guys just above the Mendoza line blasting 60 homers a season. You never really know until you make the actual change, but fortunately with baseball, the change can be reversed pretty easily. Not so with other ham-handed moves that spawn chains of unforeseen consequences, such as enacted laws from a legislature.

But Posnanski says -- and I agree, which probably relieves a great deal of his stress -- that the other proposed rule is an exercise in weapons-grade numbskullery: The elimination of actually throwing four pitches in the case of an intentional walk.

Ordinarily, a pitcher's job is to keep runners off the bases. But every now and again there is a strategic reason to put one on. Perhaps it will make a double play easier and end the inning more quickly. Perhaps the current batter spent his last two at-bats sending baseballs into geosynchronous orbit but the next one can't hit the ground with his hat. There are other reasons, so the manager will tell the pitcher to throw four pitches outside of the strike zone. These are generally waaaaaay outside of the zone. The catcher will stand up and take two or three steps away from the plate to ensure even the wildest of lunges by the hitter won't connect.

So, someone on the competition committee suggested, maybe we should just let the pitcher indicate he intends to intentionally walk a batter and not throw the pitches. It might save time. Posnanski notes it will save about as much time as beginning that journey of a thousand miles with two steps instead of one. Plus, the central act of baseball is the pitch to the batter. Creating an "instant" intentional walk robs the hitting team of the possibility of a passed ball advancing the runners. Or of the chance to pull a rare steal on a pitchout. Or any number of the unpredictable things that can occur when one human throws something to another human sixty feet, six inches away.

One of baseball's greatest appeals is that once the ball leaves the pitcher's hand, anything can happen. Streamlining one infrequently-used play in the game in order to grab a minute or two against game length is not a good that is great enough to warrant the loss of unpredictability this change would bring. So, Mr. Commissioner, I -- along with every human being with a functioning cerebellum -- vote no.

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