Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tweaking The Challenge System

Yesterday, John Marshall of the Associated Press published an article that discusses the pace of play in Major League Baseball. While Marshall briefly talked about a couple of possible rule changes used in the Arizona Fall League, including a pitch clock, the bulk of the article talked about tweaking the challenge system implemented during the regular season in 2014.

While I believe some challenges took much longer than they should have, and the ruling after some of them left us scratching our heads, the system worked pretty well. In the past I've been opposed to any sort of replay, but finally came around to the idea that getting the call right should be the top priority.

Yeah, yeah.

My only true beef with the system had to do with managers coming out onto the field trying to kill time while their coaches looked at the replay to try and determine whether they should challenge a play or not. In case you don't know, managers can only challenge a maximum of two plays a game, assuming their first challenge is successful. So while I understand managers holding up a game to make sure they should challenge a play, that doesn't mean it doesn't get frustrating for spectators.

Thankfully Joe Torre, MLB's Executive Vice President, also sees this as a problem which needs to be addressed.
"When we first talked about challenges, if you got out of the dugout you couldn’t challenge, but I didn’t want to take away from the fact that the manager could run out there and argue.” 
“I didn’t really plan on them meandering out there and having a conversation, but you live and you learn."
“That’s one area we’ll do something differently. I’m not sure what that is, but certainly we will eliminate some of that standing around because 10 seconds is a long time in our game,” Torre said Wednesday at the general managers’ meetings. 
I'm actually writing this while the Browns/Texas game is on the television, and a play that happened early in the game got me thinking about a solution.

Ryan Mallet, quarterback for the Texans, threw a pass of about 20 yards to Andre Johnson that was ruled complete. However, replays showed that the ball hit the turf, meaning it should have been incomplete. The Texans tried to hurry up and snap the ball, which would eliminate the possibility of the Browns challenging the ruling of a completion, but Cleveland's coach threw the red flag... signifying that he was challenging the play... first. The officials determined that the ball had hit the ground, and reversed the decision to an incomplete pass.

You see what was different than what would have happened in MLB? No? Well, it's simple... play was not held up by anybody. The Browns coach didn't come out onto the field to argue, nor did the Browns defense do something to hold up the game. The speed of the game was no different whether Cleveland challenged the call or not.

I'd like to see something like this happen in MLB. Of course, some rules would have to change. One of them would be that, like Joe Torre brought up in that article, managers would not be allowed to challenge a play if they come onto the field. A challenge would have to be made from the dugout. I would think they'd have to throw some sort of flag, or have the next batter or pitcher signal to an umpire for the manager.

Another change would be a time limit on the pitcher and batter. The AFL tried out a pitch clock that could be used in MLB, but that would have to be combined with a time limit on how long a batter takes to get into the batter's box.

Those two changes could lead to managers in MLB having to make a decision about challenging a play without adding time to a game, like they did in the Texans/Browns situation I discussed earlier.

To be honest, I don't think the pace of play is a big deal. The NFL, and football in general, is the biggest spectator sport in the United States. However, a football game in the NFL or in college can take around three hours, while there may only be 15 minutes of actual action.

I believe the reason for declining ratings for MLB is because of the lack of offense. Face it, while big baseball fans such as myself will watch as many games as possible, while also paying for things like Extra Innings and, casual baseball fans want to see more runs. And offense has gone down in MLB over the years. But like so many other things, that's cyclical.

While run prevention rules MLB right now, leading to lower ratings, the opposite could be true in a few years. Teams like the Mets are doing things like moving in the outfield walls (again!), meaning it's entirely possible to see hitters ruling the game again, meaning MLB ratings will rise.

Hopefully, this time, offense rises without the use of steroids or other PEDs.

The bottom line is that MLB should not do anything to speed up the game that could hurt it. Pitcher/Batter clocks, along with eliminating arguments from managers, would not damage the game. I don't think people watch baseball, whether that be die-hard fans or casual ones, because they may see an argument from a manager, or because it takes a minute for play to continue due to batters or pitchers taking their time.

So go ahead and try to speed up the game, but don't get carried away.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)