Trevor Bauer has a gripe with Rob Manfred. Namely, his decision, after consultation with the MLBPA and all clubs, to implement rules limiting mound visits to six per game (plus an extra visit for each extra inning), reducing between-inning breaks to 2:05 for locally televised games and 2:25 for nationally televised games (with the time limit also applying to pitching changes), and improving review times by providing clubs with better replays and better communication means.
The second rule, in particular, is what drew Bauer’s ire after his April 7 loss to the Royals. Specifically the fact that pitchers are no longer guaranteed eight warm-up pitches, as umpires will signal the end of their warm-up with 25 seconds left in the 2:05 break.
“I tried to get loose, but with the new Rob Manfred time BS that we have only a certain amount of time between innings, it’s hard to get loose sometimes,” Bauer said.
This got me wondering, is Manfred really shoveling fertilizer at players and fans? Is he really as bad as he seems sometimes?
The second part of the quote above from Bauer mentions the specific environment the pitcher found himself in, and it’s worth noting, because the game temperature was 34 degrees. Those are the kind of conditions that do require flexibility within the rules, and hopefully that’s something the MLBPA can negotiate with Manfred and the owners in years to come.
However, these frigid temperatures are far from the norm. As of Monday, 22 games had been played at temps 39 degrees or below, which makes up less than one percent of the regular season. In nearly every other game, pitchers’ hands will not be ice blocks and they should be able to adequately warm up in the time allotted.
Considering the season writ large, shrinking the time between innings is perhaps one of the most sensible solutions to the problem of pace of play. And, yes, it is a problem. Consider that games took 3:05 in 2017, up from 2:55 in 2007; likewise, pitchers took 24.3 seconds between pitches in 2017, up from 21.5 in 2007. That’s a lot of dead time.
So far, Manfred’s changes are noticeable, per Forbes:
Excluding pitching changes, there are an average total of 3.78 mound visits per game, that’s down dramatically from last season before the new rules. Based on the total 2017 average the comparable number was 7.41 mound visits per game, or an average decline of nearly four (3.63) visits per game.
The changes are minor this year, and the trends noted by Forbes may not even last. But because baseball is the most conservative sport this side of dressage, many fans are more vociferous in their outrage than Bauer, and claim that loving the game means loving the time it takes to play among other things. But those trying to make the game more appealing by cutting down its dead time love it no less than any “traditionalist.”
You can debate whether Manfred really loves the game or whether he’s doing things in baseball’s best interest all day, but it’s hard to argue that a game with less dead time is not a more enjoyable product. I’ve missed the Tribe dearly these last few days, and would gladly take a six-hour marathon to get them back, but so far I’ve enjoyed the fact that Tribe games are averaging 2:50 (19 minutes less than the league average).
The other thing to consider, is that Manfred could have done more. A lot more. The most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement permits MLB to impose on-field changes unilaterally when at least one year of notice is given to the union. With that in mind, Manfred could have gone ahead with the 20-second pitch clock. That would have been an even more serious change to the game. I wonder what Bauer might have said about that.
Manfred could have informed the MLBPA this offseason that he wants runners starting on second base in extra innings and will start such a system next year. It’s already happening in the minor leagues, as is the pitch clock and more serious punishments (i.e., called balls) for not obeying the between-inning clock. Or, as Grant Brisbee shared recently, Manfred could move to limit roster spots for pitchers or limit defensive shifts or whatever the quote below is:
Some interesting thoughts from the Commish. @MLB #PitchingTwitter pic.twitter.com/A3FUmODGKr— Josh (@JScottyBB) April 9, 2018
But here’s my theory: Rob Manfred’s BS is mostly that. Manfred is a negotiator. He has goals, specifically shortening game time. He has this goal because he believes the MLB product is more profitable that way, and profit is what he has to deliver for team owners. Owners, by the way, have become less and less connected to the teams, and even the game, and more interested in its profits. So, Manfred’s job is not to protect the sanctity of baseball, or whatever else those wringing their hands about his comments imagine, but to provide for the owners.
If it feels like Manfred is being nefarious in his aims, I think that’s fair. His predecessor, Bud Selig, made a slew of decisions that seemed dumb or like obvious mistakes (like declaring one All-Star Game a tie, then later deciding All-Star Games should determine home field advantage in the World Series to try and avoid future ties), but he never seemed to be working against baseball. Perhaps because Manfred comes from a different background — Selig was owner of the Brewers, Manfred was a labor lawyer — and because of changes in who owns the teams, his decisions have a different tone.
I’m not making a judgment here about whether or not Manfred is right or wrong in his decisions. Yes, I think the pace of play should be improved, but, no, I’m not certain what’s being done is the best way forward. I’m simply stating the fact that it is Manfred’s job to broach these issues. And if he is going to get anything done, it’s going to have to come via negotiation. Anyone with a basic understanding of negotiation knows that where you start is not where you end up.
I don’t think we’ll ever see runners starting on second base in MLB. Nor do I imagine there will ever be a mercy rule or limits on the number of relievers a team can use or anything else quite so wild. I could be wrong, and changes will certainly be made, but I think they will be the product of negotiation and that MLBPA will be able to have a say in their implementation. Whether or not they meet the goal of improving pace of play...we shall see.
No matter what happens, we’ll have guys like Trevor Bauer offering their opinion. And that’s fine, too. Even curmudgeons can be lovable.