Since taking over as commissioner of Major League Baseball in January of 2015, Rob Manfred has made it his personal crusade to reduce the time it takes to play a professional baseball game. The idea is that reducing game time will attract new and younger fans. It’s a theory that holds water, given the limited attention span of the social media generation. Manfred has already implemented some measures bent on shortening games, such as eliminating the four-pitch walk and limiting instant replay time.
Those are less controversial ideas and, while they may have minimal effect on game length, they help while not affecting play too much. However, some of Manfred’s idea are simply baffling, and make it seem as though he just doesn’t understand baseball. In particular, Rob Manfred’s comments on relief pitchers were laughable.
Rob Manfred’s Comments on Relievers are Ridiculous
Recently, in an interview with the New York Daily News, Manfred said once again that the league was looking at more ways to shorten games, including limiting the number of relievers a manager could use in a single inning. He first brought up that idea last July, when he said the following:
“I’ve got nothing against relief pitchers, but they do two things to the game: They slow the game down and our relievers have become so dominant at the back end that they actually rob action out of the end of the game.”
This thought proves two things: Manfred doesn’t understand the purpose of relief pitchers, and he doesn’t truly understand the game of baseball. If implemented, that idea could, in fact, cause games to drag on even longer.
The Purpose of Relievers
If Manfred truly believes that relievers only serve to slow the game down and rob the game of action, then he doesn’t grasp the purpose of relief pitching or the point of baseball. Relievers do not, in fact, slow the game down. They do just the opposite. A manager will go to his bullpen in order to bring the game to it’s close. Yes, it takes time to bring out a new pitcher and for the pitcher to get warmed up, but think about why relievers come out in the first place. In most cases, it’s because the pitcher the reliever is replacing is tiring, and is starting to get hit around. If a pitcher loses his effectiveness, it can turn into the in-game equivalent of batting practice for the opposing team. The tired pitcher will face batter after batter, giving up hits and runs. That may be action, but each at-bat can take a lot of time, and it isn’t the kind of action fans want to see.
What the Fans Want
By forcing managers to stay with pitchers who are throwing meatballs, Manfred will squeeze more action out of each game. That action, however, will defeat his original purpose, and will cause games to drag on longer. Innings will go on and on, until the unfortunate pitcher just happens to get the final out. So while relievers do, in a way, limit action, they also serve Manfred’s ultimate purpose of limiting game time.
The truth is, the action that relievers deprive us of is not the action anyone wants to see, anyway. Sure, home runs are exciting, but nobody likes to see a pitch just get bombed, with no end in sight. Fans across the country cheer for their manager when they come out of the dugout to get an ineffective pitcher, and call for heads to roll when the manager waits too long. Hell, managers have been known to lose their jobs for that very sin. The kind of action Manfred thinks relievers take from us is actually something very few people want to see.
Baseball fans also find joy in watching dominant pitchers do their work. Baseball isn’t all about the guys swinging the bats. What fan didn’t marvel at Mariano Rivera‘s cutter? Who doesn’t enjoy seeing Andrew Miller‘s slider do it’s work? Yes, more home runs may draw in new fans, but the fans that stick around for the long haul will do so because they love watching both sides of the ball. Rob Manfred’s proposal could also alienate current fans, who appreciate the intricate chess matches played between each batter and each pitcher, and from dugout to dugout.
But Don’t Effective Relievers Make Extra Innings more Likely?
Sometimes, the use of multiple relief pitchers can send a game into extra innings. In such cases, yes, relievers do lengthen games. Here’s the thing, though: since 2011, less than 5% of games played have gone into extra innings. Relievers are becoming more effective, as Manfred suggests. Yet, the number of extra-inning games played per year is actually falling. That may have more to do with the skill level of hitters in today’s game than with the effectiveness of relief pitchers at closing out games. However, the point is this: relief pitchers, and their use by managers, are not dragging out games.
Punishing Pitchers for Being Good, and Teams for Paying Them to be
Perhaps the most facially outrageous portion of Rob Manfred’s comments is the part in which he essentially says games are robbed of action because relievers are “so dominant”. In essence, he wants to limit the use of relievers because the athletes, who get paid to be effective and get paid a lot because they are the best in the world, are too good. In no other industry will you find a CEO or other manager looking to limit the amount of time employees work because the employees are too good at their jobs. The thought just makes no sense at all.
In the end, Manfred would just be punishing relief pitchers for being as good as they are. If teams were limited in the number of relievers they could use, they would begin carrying fewer relievers on the roster. Talented pitchers who belong on major league teams would, instead find themselves in the minors. If minor league players were paid more, that would be less of a big deal. However, Manfred has already expressed his feelings on that issue as well.
Manfred would also be punishing the teams that shelled out the big bucks for relief pitchers. Over the past few seasons, the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, and Chicago Cubs have demonstrated the importance of a dominant bullpen, and the rest of the league was paying attention. This past offseason, relief pitching was highly sought after, and relievers scored record deals. Limiting the amount of relievers a team can use per inning would turn a lot of those deals into dead weight, and team’s would be forced to either dump or eat the contracts.
Change with the Times, but in Ways that Make Sense
Baseball is a long game; that’s just how it is when you watch a sport with no time limit. It’s also part of what makes the game both unique and beautiful. However, it is evolving, and so is it’s audience. The overall concept of shortening games to draw in viewers makes sense. It’s a good idea, even. Yet, the league has to go about making changes in ways that fit with how the game is played, and with the reasons people already love the game. Limiting the use of relief pitchers may sound like a way to reduce game length, but it would harm the sport and would ultimately fail to accomplish Rob Manfred’s goals.