Rules to water down pitching and create offense could counteract pace of play improvements. That said, there are a couple of rules they should give a try.
Baseball is weighing a handful rule changes to speed up the game and create more offense. Taking a look at a few of these, I think there are a couple things they should give a try, and one they should definitely put on the back-burner.
The adoption of a universal DH has come up once again, and while many are against such a change, I’ve become somewhat indifferent toward its implementation. While I’m sure the player’s union loves the idea, as it extends the careers of aging hitters, I’m not sure it helps the MLB by creating that much more offense, and it likely won’t speed up the game, either.
When I say it may not create more offense, I don’t mean that a DH won’t be a more productive hitter than a pitcher. Of course you’re going to see more hits, some more home runs, and so on. But looking at run scoring in 2018, the average for runs scored per team was 4.45 across major league baseball. The top 10 teams were an even split between AL and NL teams. The bottom 10 were also an even split between leagues. However, the worst 3 teams were all from the NL, while the top 4 were all from the AL. The DH surely plays a part in that disparity.
While the DH is certainly a more capable hitter, doesn’t that mean potentially making the games longer by adding more walks, base hits and base runners? By extending innings in this way, it flies in the face of the issue MLB has really been trying to solve—pace of play. For what it’s worth, Boston not only scored the most runs per game, they also led all teams in average game length at 3 hours and 13 minutes, with the Yankees (second highest in runs per game) just two minutes off that pace.
Along the same vein, there are a couple more proposals designed to create more offense. One would see the pitching mound moved back, while another would see it lowered.
The distance between the mound and home plate is sacrosanct, in my opinion—60 feet, 6 inches should not be up for debate. Would it make sense for the NBA to raise the hoop another six inches because players are taller and jump higher? Or should the NFL make the field 20 yards longer because wide receivers are quicker? No, it wouldn’t—moving on, then.
Lowering the mound, on the other hand, makes some sense. The league has done this before, back in 1968, when pitching was becoming too dominant. Following that season, the mound was lowered from 15 inches down to 10.
Changing the mound height once again would surely give some advantage to batters, giving a boost in offense across the league. Even better, many medical professionals believe it could alleviate some of the stress on a pitcher’s arm, meaning we could potentially see less catastrophic injuries and Tommy John surgeries.
I don’t think MLB should go overboard with any rules to increase offense, though. They should choose between the universal DH or lowering of the mound, but not implement both.
One of these two changes should do enough to increase offense and create some fan excitement. After seeing the effect one of these changes has on the offensive landscape for a season or two, MLB can decide whether to take further action and implement the other.
That being said, as I suggested earlier, more offense means teams will string more hits together and extend their respective offensive half-innings, which leads to longer games. That brings us to one final rule proposal—the 20-second pitch clock. I love the idea of the pitch clock and it’s a rule that can easily be put into play. In the words of Forrest Gump, “that’s all I have to say about that.”
If MLB is going to implement one or two rule changes to help batters, they must speed the game along somewhere. It may as well be the pitch clock.
If you want my two cents—I’d go with the pitch clock and lower the mound, as there are potential health perks for pitchers as well as a desired offensive boost. The DH can always be implemented down the road. While the union would certainly like to see the jobs created by the universal DH, I’d think they’d be equally as interested in protecting the careers and health of pitchers.
The union and league officials ultimately need to decide, though, whether they want more offense or quicker games, because I’m not sure passing a set of seemingly contrarian rules will allow both.
Bob Ellis is a lifelong Royals fan. He has written in the past for Kings of Kauffman and Statliners. Follow him on Twitter @BobEllisKC