Ask Gary: Assessing baseball’s possible rule changes

by Gary Shelton on February 16, 2019 · 0 comments

in general

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

MLB is supposed to be considering rule changes to increase offense and speed up the game. Do you think any of these potential changes may be adopted? Would they improve the game?

1) Lowering the mound

2) Three-batter minimum for pitchers

3) Universal DH

4) Pitch clock

5) Extra inning base runners - Starting in the 10th inning have a base runner placed at 2nd base to begin the inning.

Larry Beller

Larry, it's odd. We think of baseball as an unchanging game that hasn't been edited since the days of Ty Cobb. But your question underlines just how much the game is constantly tweaking the way it is played. We've seen the DH, and interleague play, and video replay. Before that there was integrated play, the abolition of the spitball and the elimination of greenies. Now we have a commissioner who is willing to entertain new rules to make the game better.

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Look, we aren't talking about turning the game into Arena Baseball. Jose Canseco once told me he'd have six-run homers and bases that light up, real disco stuff. But the game doesn't need that.

I'll try to take your proposed changes and discuss each one of them. As you know, this is just my opinion.

1. Lowering the mound: The mound was lowered from 15 to 10 inches in 1968, and now there is consideration to lower it further. Much of the argument centers on claims that the higher mound creates more stress on the arms of pitchers. But if that's the case, wouldn't there have been more (not less) Tommy John injuries when the mound was higher.

We do know this. Before, the higher mound led to lower ERAs. From renown baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby: "(In 1968) even pitchers who qualified for the ERA title had an ERA below 2.00 that season, led by Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals, whose 1.12 ERA was the third-lowest since 1900. Dutch Leonard compiled a 0.96 ERA with the '14 Boston Braves, and Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown had a 1.04 ERA for the '06 Chicago Cubs."

I think that if baseball continues to lower the mound, it will be because of the increasing amount of injuries, which leads to a lot of wasted revenue by the owners. I can hear the critics scoff already: "What are you going to do, eventually make them pitch in a hole?"

To me, this is one of those issues that baseball will debate for a few seasons. I can see lowering the mound by a couple of inches in spring training and studying that. But, really, what's next? Are you going to lower it further for taller pitchers

2. Three-batter minimum for pitchers: Baseball has already approached the players' union about this, and it could be enacted fairly quickly if it passes. The advantage of such a rule is that it would lessen the matchup game, of course. Last year, there were 1,145 situations where the pitcher threw to one batter and left.

I agree there would be some strategy involved, and that would be interesting. And it might speed up the games. But I don't care for the rule. It changes too much of the identity of the late innings for me.

3. The Universal DH: I think this will be adopted soon. Already, it seems absurd that one league has the DH. but the other league does not. Now, personally, I prefer the game without the DH. I think it leads to a lot more strategy by the managers. But if the AL is going to keep it, shouldn't the NL have it too? Isn't this the same game? What? Are we going to count field goals as two points in the NFC but three in the AFC?

The proponents of the rule point out that you're asking a pitcher to do something he can't do -- hit. And the union would love it -- it would create a need for overaged hitters who are limited in the field.

Despite my own opinion, this one will be changed. Soon.

4. The pitch clock: I've always thought that pitchers would adjust quickly enough to a pitch clock, the way basketball players have adjusted to the shot clock. It really wouldn't be much of an issue.

But how do you legislate the rule when a batter constantly steps out of the box and scratches himself and adjusts his glove and takes practice swings and re-adjusts his gloves? If you're going to penalize the pitcher, you have to penalize the batter as well.

5. Extra inning baserunners. Whoever proposed this rule should have to wear a funny hat for a year. It's absurd. What's next? The big kids get to take the third strike of the little kids? That catchers get a ghost-runner on first?

This is major league baseball, people. You don't change the rules because it's late in the evening. One of the most honored of baseball rules is that you play it out. You don't go to home-run derby or manufactured baserunners in extra innings.

Overall, I don't know if any of the changes will make baseball a better sport. You can appreciate the speeding up of the game, and you might prefer a three-batter minimum, but will it make the game better than the one Babe Ruth played? Not really.

I'll say this. A lot of these rule changes would speed up the game. But I have never walked out of a ballpark after seeing a well-played game and griped about the time it took. It's baseball. It has to continue to be baseball.

A universal DH isn't going to change the essence of the game. I don't think a  pitch clock would, either. Or the height of the mound.

I'd be a harder sell on the three-batter minimum, and I'd fight you to the last breath on extra-inning baserunners. Someone might disagree. But aren't disagreements  why we have umpires?

Approximately 19,400 players have made it to MLB.  About 311,000 have toiled in the minor leagues.  That means there is about a 6% chance of a minor leaguer getting to the ‘show’.  Kyler Murray has chosen the NFL over MLB.  The risk of CTE notwithstanding, do you think he has made the correct decision for his future line of work? 

Scott Myers

Scott, it depends on what lights the fire in Murray. He's going to be a wealthy man either way. He's going to have his fans. He'll be in the headlines for years.

But football does it for some people, and baseball does it for others. Then there is curling. (I kid). I think that's the ultimate question. Is Murray happier in pads or cleats?

Now, if I were a friend of the family, and Murray told me he loved both but was torn, I'd tell him this. Football has an instant gratification to it even for a quarterback. A player doesn't have to wait long to find out if he's going to be a big deal. And if not, well, he can always turn to baseball like Tim Tebow did (Murray is a much better prospect, as I understand).

But if I were a financial planner, I'd advise him to go to baseball. Sure, you lose some time in the minor leagues. But as a No. 1 draft pick, Murray is going to get every chance to succeed. And if he makes it, he can play for a lot longer in most cases and make a lot more money (although some quarterbacks seem to be playing forever). He won't have linebackers banging him around.

I also would say this to Murray. In baseball, you are alone in the batter's box, and most of your success is self-generated. In football, he could get an idiot coach or a leaky offensive line or plodding receivers. There is so much that is up to others.

Baseball, I think, offers the saner path. But if you love being the quarterback, you can dedicate four years to the game and see what happens.

After a few weeks of being out of town with my son at basketball tournaments, I have to hand it to all the coaches that take time to coach these kids.  They do not get the kudos they deserve. It's a lot of work molding a group of young individuals into a team. A huge thank you to all who do it.
Richard Kinning
Well said, Richard. I've always thought of youth coaches as teachers, and as such, there are a great many good ones ... and some horrible ones. I've coached youth sports, and it's a thankless job where the kids have varying degrees of interest. That makes it tough.
I once coached a kid who wept upon being sent into a game; he was playing because his parents signed him up. I coached a kid who liked to wear his helmet sideways and peer out of the ear hole. I coached kids who were physically afraid of pitched balls.
The parents don't help, either. I had a parent scream at me once after we had sliding practice in baseball because his kid was a heavy kid who couldn't do it well. But isn't that why you practice? Did the parent think his kid was going to play baseball and never have to slide? I had another parent who was the nicest guy in the world; when he was coaching his own baseball team that summer, a parent attacked him with a bat.
I have four kids, and they've all played sports. All of them played soccer. Two played tennis. One played football. Two played baseball. One is a swimmer. And I have excellent memories of most of their coaches. One had a baseball coach who was a moron (he kicked a kid's feet as the kid sat on the bench to get his attention). My daughter had a soccer coach who was awful.
But most of the coaches of my kids were well-meaning parents who had the best interest of the kids at heart.
Let's face it: The coaches get something out of it, too. Working with kids is a joy, and you get to compete. But think of all the hours, and all the days, that these men and women commit to the kids. It's truly a job we should be more thankful for.
Do you think that the Bucs should go all-out to sign Tyrann Mathieu?
Jim Willson
Jim, what do you mean by all-out? I'm certainly in favor of signing him. He was a great player for Bruce Arians in Arizona. But do you give him a blank check for 41 years? Of course not.
It's going to be an interesting secondary next year. The Bucs played a lot of kids last season, who should be better. A lot of analysts expect them to draft a corner this year. The coaching will be better.
I covered Matthieu in his national championship game (a loss to Alabama), and the other players seemed to love him. He had an "it" factor that was impressive. Everyone loved the Honey Badger.
And since he's been in the NFL, he hasn't given his team a bit of trouble.
I know there are positions that cry out louder than a safety on this team: Offensive line, running back, defensive end for instance. But I'm making the phone call to see if a reasonable deal can be struck.
After the last New England Super Bowl I conceded that Brady was the best QB in NFL history. This last title cemented it.  When did that happen for you?
Richard Kinning
Great question, Richard. When did Picasso become Picasso? When did Mozart solidify his reputation?
Honestly, I think it happens over time. In Brady's first season, he was basically a caretaker quarterback. But more and more, the Patriots looked to him to be the playmaker, the leader, the star. And then he was, and we all knew it. It was like watching the sun rise.
We've seen the comebacks over the Rams and the Panthers. We've seen the massive yardage he had against Philly. We've seen greatness from the front and back and side to side. By now, everyone should be convinced.
My personal day would be following the 2003 season, when the Patriots were marching toward their second Super Bowl. They played against a great Colts' team that year, with the great Peyton Manning. And Brady simply embarrassed him. Manning threw four interceptions, and he had the same yardage (237) as Brady on 10 more throws. The Patriots won by 10, and his career was off to the races.
Over time, greatness is a wall that is built brick by brick. Brady had a playoff game against Seattle with four touchdowns. He had the comeback against Atlanta. He had 500 yards against Philadelphia.
The greatest thing? You're going to be able to tell your grandkids that you saw him grow, and you appreciated his journey.
Much has been said about the Rays lease ending in 2027 ... but mostly forgotten is that the Bucs lease ends in 2028.
I believe that when they were asked to sign an extension (before the renovations to Ray Jay) the Bucs declined. Is there anyone that doesn't believe that the Glazers will have their hands out in the next few years?  One of the arguments will be that Tampa Bay won't be able to land any more Super Bowls if we can't compete with Atlanta, Los Angeles, etc.
I don't see the area being able to keep both teams happy,  do you?
Jim Willson
Almost every city will eventually face a greedy owner who wants the public to finance a stadium for them. We're no different.
Raymond James is 20 years old now. I still think it's a fine stadium, but every building has an expiration date. Sure, the Glazers will have their hands out. Where else would an owner's hand be (except in your pocket)?
If Tampa was smart, it would begin to allocate funds toward a new stadium. They won't. They'll let it hit them all at once, and the sides will disagree, and we'll be in it again. Remember, the vote for the Ray Jay was a close one.
What clouds the issue further is all the money that Tampa has given for improvements to the stadium. Politicians think that should be all they give; owners think that's just keeping the status quo.
One thing that does help seems to be that two communities are now vying to keep the two teams. The Rays seem to have given up on Tampa (although they say otherwise) and are looking, for now, to St. Pete. The Bucs are entrenched in Tampa.
My gut feeling is that people love their Bucs above all teams. They'll work something out so the team will stay. I don't feel the Rays are in the same boat. I think too many people are comfortable with them looking around, even if it means we say farewell to baseball forever.
It's funny. No one in Tampa Bay seems to have any money, yet there are all these big houses on golf courses. Isn't there money anywhere?
With Flacco going to Denver I am wondering if Elway is losing touch with reality. Actually I knew that was true many years ago when he had to have an old QB that took two years to do what Tebow did in 3/4 of a season, which was win a playoff game.
Richard Kinning
Let me say this carefully, because I love Tim Tebow. At a time when players keep getting suspended for breaking rules, Tebow was the perfect soldier. He was never going to be in trouble, and he competed as hard as anyone.
That said, I can't blame Elway for wanting a better quarterback than Tebow. If you have kept up with Tebow, a lot of teams found his accuracy lacking.  Besides, Elway won a Super Bowl with the quarterback he brought in to replace Tebow (Peyton Manning).
But I agree with you on Flacco. I can't see him going to Denver and being a success.
There is mounting pressure on Elway. He has missed on Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Case Keenum. Now there is Flacco, who couldn't keep his job with the Ravens.
It's odd that a great quarterback like Elway seems to undervalue the position. His team simply isn't going to prosper with a series of disappointments. It's a quarterback's game anymore. Until Elway grasps that, the Broncoes are going to be a mediocre team.
What are your thoughts on the new football league?  I forgot it was on, but want to catch a game or two.  The TV ratings for this minor league were better than for the NBA which is interesting.
Richard Kinning
Richard, people forget this. The old USFL didn't fail because the fans didn't care. They failed because some owners (read: Donald Trump) wouldn't stay in their lane. They thought they would roll a ball out and automatically be equal to the NFL.
People love football. It's as simple as that. There is a hollowness when the Super Bowl is played, because you're months away from the game, and hockey and basketball are  in midseason, and baseball hasn't started yet. There is a void for a lot of sports fans in February and March that a savvy football league can fill.
The thing is, that football league cannot forget its place. Any football league will start as a minor league. As long as it doesn't get the feeling of entitlement, it can survive. A lot of people will tune it to check it out.
I suspect the numbers will dip for the AAF. That would be natural. But if it grows naturally, what's the downside? You can watch without an emotional attachment.
Vasy missed a lot of games for the Bolts this year, but since he has been back he has been stellar. Yet I do not hear him in the running for the Vezina  this year. OK so Vegas is tracking it and he is listed there. Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas Golden Knights) +400, Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning) +500 and Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg Jets)  are +700.
So things are as they should be, and the Tampa fans have been treated to some spectacular goaltending this year!
Richard Kinning
Richard, I think a couple of things hurt Vasilevskiy when it comes to the Vezina.
One, he's a baby. He's just 24, an age when most goaltenders are still promising prospects. He's already a star.
Two, the injury hurt. He should have about eight-10 more wins on his record, which would make him harder to ignore.
Three, he plays on a team with a lot of stars. That hurts him. When you play Nashville, for instance, you fear Pekka Rinne more than anyone. But when you play the Lightning, it isn't just Vasilevskiy that you worry about. That shouldn't hurt Vasilevskiy, but it probably does.
I think as the stretch run approaches, you'll hear more and more talk about  Vasilevskiy. Despite the foot injury, he's fifth in the league in wins (and has a lot fewer losses than anyone ahead of him). He's ninth in save percentage. He's 13th in goals against. He's second in shutouts.
Now consider this: Over the last two seasons (not counting the playoffs), Vasilevskiy has 68 wins. Only Winnipeg's Hellebuyck has more (70).
Those are good numbers. I think his won-loss alone is enough to make him a Vezina finalist again. And one of these days, he's going to win it.

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