According to the Associated Press, the player’s association has agreed to Major League Baseball’s proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.
The guys who (mis)manage baseball are trying to speed up the game and this is one of their fabulous ideas. Why force the pitcher to throw four balls wide of the zone? Why not speed up the game by letting the pitcher announce his intention to walk the batter and then let the batter go directly to first base?
Because it changes the game more than you might think.
Pitchers and the intentional walk
You don’t have to watch much baseball to realize a lot of pitchers have trouble issuing intentional walks. It’s a different target and a different release point and we’ve all seen pitchers miss the target and force the catcher to scramble to keep the ball in front of him. But we sometimes miss what sometimes happens after a pitcher issues an intentional walk; some pitchers have a hard time getting back in the zone.
Take Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto.
During his playing career, Jerry was a reliever and for part of his career he lived here in Kansas City. He and I would work out together which mainly consisted of Jerry striking me out about a hundred times a winter. I was great for his confidence.
I’d watch Jerry pitch every chance I got and one night Jerry was brought in to pitch against the Atlanta Braves. He was asked to start his outing by issuing an intentional walk and after that he struggled with the strike zone. If memory serves — and it often doesn’t — Jerry was brought in again the next night and asked to issue another intentional walk; which he did throwing as hard as he could.
Former pitcher Don Sutton was broadcasting the game and started laughing his rear end off because he knew just what Jerry was doing; trying to avoid losing the feel for his release point.
Forcing the pitcher to throw four pitches to issue an intentional walk is an advantage for the offense, and if I’m batting I want the pitcher to throw those pitches.
And who issues the intentional walk?
OK, so throwing the pitches can mess up some pitchers; if the pitcher who caused the mess is leaving the game anyway, why not have him issue the walk before he goes?
Because if the reliever who comes into the game issues the walk he’s met the requirement of facing one batter and that gives his manager options. If the guy who left the game issued the walk, the new pitcher would have to face whomever the opposing manager sends to the plate. (And if that should have been “whoever” I apologize, but gotta ask: whom cares?) The downside of having the guy who just came in the game issue the walk is having him start his outing by throwing four pitches wide of the zone.
Let the pitcher issue an intentional walk without throwing the pitches and this little bit of strategy gets taken out of the game.
Enforce the rules already on the books
Look up the section on “Pitcher Delays” in the rulebook and you’ll come across this:
(c) (8.04) Pitcher Delays When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.” The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball. The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.
And if you look up the section on “The Batter’s Box” you find a whole bunch of stuff about keeping the batter in the box including this:
(3) If the batter refuses to take his position in the batter’s box during his time at bat, the umpire shall call a strike on the batter. The ball is dead, and no runners may advance. After the penalty, the batter may take his proper position and the regular ball and strike count shall continue. If the batter does not take his proper position before three strikes have been called, the batter shall be declared out.
So if baseball wants to speed up the game they don’t need to come up with a bunch of new rules; they should just enforce the ones they have already.
It must be a great game…
When people tell me they find baseball boring, I tell them there’s so much going on I don’t know where to look. Baseball rewards those who pay attention and you can find little bits of strategy littered throughout the game. And paying attention to the small stuff makes the big stuff more understandable. These days we’ve all the got an attention span of a hummingbird on Red Bull, so baseball wants to speed up the game to kep their fans happy.
I don’t know if he was the first guy to say it, but Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle once said baseball must be a great game; it’s survived all out attempts to screw it up.
And allowing pitchless walks is just one more of those attempts.
Make ’em throw the pitches.