Pace of play is a hot button topic in Major League Baseball. If MLB was serious about making games faster, they would stop juicing the ball.
Seemingly every offseason, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred decries the pace of play in the game today. Games need to be faster in his mind, with various rule tweaks and changes being considered. From ideas such as a pitch clock to just signaling for an intentional walk to potentially moving the mound back, there are few concepts that Manfred seemingly will not consider.
Meanwhile, the ball has been flying out of virtually any ballpark over the past two seasons. Even though Major League Baseball claims that the balls are not juiced, an explanation for these increased home run rates is not forthcoming. It goes beyond launch angle, to the point where pitchers like Justin Verlander are actively questioning whether or not the league is being truthful in their statements.
It is easy to see why that question would persist. In theory, homers would draw fans (anyone remember the Chicks Dig the Long Ball advertisement with a juiced Mark McGwire) but the game cannot ignore their players loading up on PEDs any longer. If the players cannot juice up, why not juice the balls? It’s easier to hide, especially in MLB sponsored studies about the increase in home run rates.
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That increase in home runs has also led to an increase in the length of the game. MLB games are averaging 3:09 thus far in 2019, a five minute increase over last year. That is also the highest mark in MLB history,showing that these measures to improve the pace of play simply are not working.
Let us take a look at the AAA level this year. Offense has exploded in the upper level of the minors, with home runs flying out of the park. The only change that was made? A switch to the major league ball. It would appear that the answer is obvious.
If the league is truly serious about hastening the pace of play, then it may be time to look at those baseballs once again. Instead of tinkering with the rules, and fundamentally changing the game, going back to a less aerodynamic, or a ball with less carry, could make that difference.
In theory, the more balls that are put into play, and remain in the park, will allow for more action, keeping the fans interest. And, with more balls in the park, there will be a better chance for those balls to be turned into outs. While a dramatic home run can be exciting, the homer has become boring, a commonplace event that does not generate that excitement any longer.
Baseball is unlike any of the other major sports in America. Whereas the other sports have a clock to end the game, baseball requires at least 27 outs for a victory. Those outs can come quickly, with games being just over two hours. Or, those 27 outs can take forever, such as whenever the Red Sox and Yankees face one another.
Yes, there are problems with MLB games taking too long. But the proposed rule changes, and the tinkering that is taking place in the Atlantic League are not the answer. Instead, there is an answer right in front of everyone. And over the fence as well.
It is time to stop juicing the ball. That alone may solve the pace of play issues that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred spends his time bemoaning.