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Two Rule Changes


longflyball

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Over the summer I've been reading in bits and pieces Bill James' Revised Historical Baseball Abstract. One of my favorite parts of the book was an essay on a set of rule changes he thinks would improve the game. Most if not all are intended to quicken the pace of games, reduce the # of home runs, and otherwise restore the balance of competition between pitcher and batter. If you could change the game on the field in any two specific ways, how would you do it?

James never mentioned raising the mound, which I had always assumed would be the simplest way to help out the pitcher, both on the field and in terms of injuries. I also like James' rule of gradually mandating a minimum weight and length of bats.

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I have two terrifically stupid ideas:

1. Ban foul popouts. If you can't get a hit in foul territory, you shouldn't be able to make an out, either. And it might eliminate some injuries if players didn't have to go crashing into walls/backstops/dugouts/tarps/fans in pursuit of foul balls. Would not speed the game up, but foul popouts have always driven me nuts.

2. Limit the number of times a pitcher can throw to first base and enforce the rule on time between pitches strictly. I'm so tired of watching pitchers throw 5 pickoffs to 1B before even throwing a ball to the plate and then the guy steals on the next pitch anyway. If you throw over too many times (say 5 times per batter), then a ball is added to the count. This would speed the game up drastically, and I don't think it would have all that much effect on steals. Obviously such a limit would never happen and it might be a dumb idea, but I'd like to see it.

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2. Limit the number of times a pitcher can throw to first base and enforce the rule on time between pitches strictly. I'm so tired of watching pitchers throw 5 pickoffs to 1B before even throwing a ball to the plate and then the guy steals on the next pitch anyway. If you throw over too many times (say 5 times per batter), then a ball is added to the count. This would speed the game up drastically, and I don't think it would have all that much effect on steals. Obviously such a limit would never happen and it might be a dumb idea, but I'd like to see it.

We could call this one the Steve Trachsel Rule!

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I have two terrifically stupid ideas:

I won't dispute your characterization of them. :)

1. Ban foul popouts. If you can't get a hit in foul territory, you shouldn't be able to make an out, either. And it might eliminate some injuries if players didn't have to go crashing into walls/backstops/dugouts/tarps/fans in pursuit of foul balls. Would not speed the game up, but foul popouts have always driven me nuts.

Yes, it would save some injuries, but it would also remove a very exciting and unpredictable element from the game. I still remember Jeter flying into the stands after a pop foul and emerging with blood dripping from his face. I dislike the Yankees intensely, but I can't help but be a fan of Jeter after that play.

Aside from eliminating some injuries (which I don't think are that frequent anyhow), I don't see any reason why foul ball outs should be eliminated, and I'm puzzled as to why it drives you nuts. I love the excitement of seeing the fielders race over to attempt the catches.

2. Limit the number of times a pitcher can throw to first base and enforce the rule on time between pitches strictly. I'm so tired of watching pitchers throw 5 pickoffs to 1B before even throwing a ball to the plate and then the guy steals on the next pitch anyway. If you throw over too many times (say 5 times per batter), then a ball is added to the count. This would speed the game up drastically, and I don't think it would have all that much effect on steals. Obviously such a limit would never happen and it might be a dumb idea, but I'd like to see it.

Yes, it's annoying, especially to the hometown fans when it's an opposing pitcher, but I actually enjoy the pickoff throws to first if it's my team's base runner who's attempting to steal. I've been deprived of that for a couple decades (the current banged up Cards might be the slowest team in the majors, with only 1/3 to 1/2 as many triples as all the other ML teams), but I still regard it as exciting. Plus, I have the good fortune of being able to watch Yadi Molina throw behind the runners and pick them off of first, like he did to Brian Giles in the NLDS last year.

That kind of problem is self-limiting. The pitching coach or manager is going to tell his pitcher to stop throwing over to first too often, because it gets the defense set back on their heels and is therefore counter productive.

The first move which I would make would be to eliminate the DH.

The second move I'd make would be to limit pitching changes to just one per inning, unless a pitcher had to be removed for injury. That would speed up the game greatly, and it would also greatly increase the amount of soul searching a manager would have to do before making a pitching change, knowing that he was going to be stuck with the reliever until he could get the 3rd out.

I'd consider requiring a pitcher to make his next pitch within 20 seconds or something like that from the time the ball is placed in play. If a pitcher needs to use the rosin bag, he'd get his time out, but once play resumed he'd have to deliver the ball.

I might also restrict batters to one time out per at bat. After that, they could still step back out of the batters box, but the pitcher could still deliver the pitch and get it called a strike. I'd need to think more about the implications of that, though. It's probably as stupid or more so than your suggestions.

Along with requiring pitchers to take their at bats against the opposing pitcher, I'd have automatic suspension for 10 games of any batter who charges the mound. I'd also eliminate body armor, aside from the head and the foot/ankle (for foul balls). If a player's injury needs protection, he should remain on the DL until he's comfortable facing the pitcher without his elbow shield.

To protect the batter, I'd suspend the pitcher for a period of time if the batter goes on the DL for a pitch that made contact with the hitter within the batters box. If the batter leans out over the plate and gets hit with a pitch, or if he swings and gets a broken wrist from an inside pitch that's between the batters box and the strike zone, tough luck! The pitcher's suspension would be until a league approved physician (or panel) examined the injury and rules that it's healed enough for the player to begin rehab. It would be a judgment call by the doctors, but they should be able to establish consistent criteria for reviewing the hitter's X-ray and making the determination. I also might limit the pitcher's suspension to a maximum of 30 days, or something like that. The objective is to give the pitcher some incentive to be careful with his pitches, but not to have such a draconian penalty that pitchers would be deterred from pitching inside at all. I think that it would require some fine tuning on the suspension length rules to establish the optimum point that minimizes deliberate throwing at batters.

My observation, without actually doing any research on it, is that pitcher suspension would be relatively rare. Practically all the cases I can recall of batters going on the DL resulted when they were swinging at a pitch and got surprised by a pitch on the inside of the plate, resulting in a fracture of a hand or wrist bone. I think that most of those injuries would turn out to be from pitch contact with the hand/wrist outside of the batters box, and thus the pitcher wouldn't be subject to a suspension.

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The first move which I would make would be to eliminate the DH.

Ha! That one is so automatic I didn't even think to mention it as one of my two.

I agree with every single thing you suggested. One of James' ideas was to restrict mid-inning pitching changes to once per game, unless a pitcher allows a run. I think that is too strict, but once per inning is very reasonable. James also suggested restricting the number of pickoff throws. Again, too severe. Pickoff throws are a part of the game. The game's pace can be quickened without altering its fundamental character. For me, incessant pitcher substitutions detract from the game's character. Stopping this practice with a rule change, while coercive and artificial, is necessary to restore that character.

Pitchers need to pitch and batters need to bat in a timely manner. Body armor needs to go. And your solution to the HBP dilemma is creative.

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Aside from eliminating some injuries (which I don't think are that frequent anyhow), I don't see any reason why foul ball outs should be eliminated, and I'm puzzled as to why it drives you nuts.

Because, like I stated, you can't get a hit in foul territory. Why should you be able to make an out? It's illogical. Foul territory is not part of the playing field, except where it benefits the defense? That's not fair (no pun intended). Anything that happens with the ball in foul territory in other sports cannot affect the game, why should baseball be different? That's like saying safeties can intercept passes out of bounds, but if it's a receiver, the pass is incomplete. I just think it's ludicrous that a part of the field is valid for the defense but not for the offense.

Yes, it's annoying, especially to the hometown fans when it's an opposing pitcher, but I actually enjoy the pickoff throws to first if it's my team's base runner who's attempting to steal. I've been deprived of that for a couple decades (the current banged up Cards might be the slowest team in the majors, with only 1/3 to 1/2 as many triples as all the other ML teams), but I still regard it as exciting. Plus, I have the good fortune of being able to watch Yadi Molina throw behind the runners and pick them off of first, like he did to Brian Giles in the NLDS last year.

Notice I said I wanted to limit the number of times a PITCHER could throw to first, not a player. This would not affect Yadier Molina. And I don't have a problem with pickoff throws, I have a problem with a ton of them being used indiscriminately and slowing the game to a crawl. Pick and choose your spots, put it on the catcher after a certain point, and the game will go faster. Of course, strict enforcement of the time between pitches might eliminate that need.

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Because, like I stated, you can't get a hit in foul territory. Why should you be able to make an out? It's illogical.

It may not be consistent with football or basketball, but it's consistent with baseball history and it's not illogical. Any ball which is hit into the air is an out if it's caught before it hits the ground, whether it's foul or fair. If the ball is out of play, whether it's foul or a home run, it's not an out. The rules have been tweaked for 150 years, but the changes have been relatively minor since the modern era began. That suggests that the old timers worked out most of the bugs properly and passed on a really good game to us.

What's logical about calling strike 3 on foul bunts and foul tips caught by the catcher, but not on other foul balls? I don't see any difference in that and an out for a caught foul ball. The baseball rules have been tested and vetted through time and most of them have been refined until they work pretty well. While I suggested several rules changes, I don't think that any of my suggestions should be implemented hastily, without careful study and analysis of the effects they're likely to have on the game. What we have now "works", and we should be very cautious about changing it.

By and large, I like to remove responsibility upon the umpires, so that their mistakes have less opportunity to influence the outcomes of the games. For that reason, I might not be willing myself to give the umpire the responsibility of keeping track of how long a pitcher is taking between pitches. Some annoyances are better left along; the cure can be worse than the disease, as in lowering the pitching mound and instituting the DH.

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I have two terrifically stupid ideas:

1. Ban foul popouts. If you can't get a hit in foul territory, you shouldn't be able to make an out, either. And it might eliminate some injuries if players didn't have to go crashing into walls/backstops/dugouts/tarps/fans in pursuit of foul balls. Would not speed the game up, but foul popouts have always driven me nuts.

I think you've underestimated or not considered the effect this will have on offense. My guess is that this rule would add between half a run and a run of offense per team per game. This would push run totals to near record levels, at least post-1890s.

The foul-strike rule was implemented in the early 1900s and was one of the major contributors to runs declining from six or seven per team per game to around three over a period of 4-5 years.

Did you know that for a while, in the 1870s, maybe into the 1880s, it was an out if you caught a foul ball on the first bounce?

2. Limit the number of times a pitcher can throw to first base and enforce the rule on time between pitches strictly. I'm so tired of watching pitchers throw 5 pickoffs to 1B before even throwing a ball to the plate and then the guy steals on the next pitch anyway. If you throw over too many times (say 5 times per batter), then a ball is added to the count. This would speed the game up drastically, and I don't think it would have all that much effect on steals. Obviously such a limit would never happen and it might be a dumb idea, but I'd like to see it.

I like this. Called balls and strikes were put in the rules to prevent a pitcher from throwing an endless number of pitches out of the reach of the batter and causing the game to go on forever. I think they didn't limit pickoff throws because pickoff throws didn't really exist in the 1870s and 1880s, not with different pitching rules, catchers playing far behind the batter, etc. If the mound, pitcher's rubber and modern catching gear had allowed base stealing to be in its modern form in 1880s I'd bet there'd have long been a rule about number of throws to first.

Also, the Northern League tried a pitch clock the first year or two they existed in the early 1990s. Apparently it was really hard to implement correctly and they gave up.

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Also, the Northern League tried a pitch clock the first year or two they existed in the early 1990s. Apparently it was really hard to implement correctly and they gave up.

That doesn't surprise me. As I said, we should be trying to make the umpire's job easier for him to do, not adding more responsibilities onto him.

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