|Pitching changes like this one that disrupt the flow of the game are one of the sources of frustration for fans who wish MLB games wouldn't last so late into the night. Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports|
Most fans agree Major League Baseball needs to speed up its games, postseason and regular season. Part of the solution might be to require a double switch to change pitchers in the middle of an inning. Even if it doesn't shorten the game, it will make it more interesting.
This week will mark the conclusion of this year's World Series. It has been the most exciting, the most talked-about and the most watched Series in recent memory. But once again baseball fans are complaining about a topic that seems to come up every postseason: the games are too long, and go too late at night. Lots of people have said the late games are why baseball's national ratings have trended down over the last few years. The facts seem to say otherwise though. Ratings tend to go up the later the games go, according to the networks and the ratings services.
Nevertheless, I agree that the games go too long. The longer commercial breaks are a part of it, and that honestly can't be helped. You can't expect FOX (or any other network in their position) not to take advantage of a large national audience, especially given the large fees they pay the league to broadcast the games.
But another factor is constant pitching changes. It's not uncommon to see five or six pitchers pitch the last four innings of a game. The other night the FOX announcers quoted Cleveland manager Terry Francona as saying that posteason baseball is different: there is more pressure to do everything exactly right and that leads to more pitching changes based on matchups with batters. You do see this to some extent during the regular season as well, but it certainly seems worse in October. When teams carry four, sometimes only three, starters in the postseason and as many as eight or nine relievers on the roster, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: more relievers are available, therefore more get used.
Here is how my double-switch solution works: the starter can be taken out at any time with no penalty. If he runs out of gas with two outs in the sixth, is getting blown out in the third, or whatever the situation, the manager should be able to replace him at any time. However after the first reliever comes in, he can only be removed at the end (or beginning, depending on how you want to look at it) of an inning without a penalty. If the reliever comes off the mound with less than three outs, someone else has to come off the field as well. In American League play, a manager would have a choice of replacing the designated hitter instead of taking out a fielder. Either way though, someone else has to come out of the lineup. There would be a few obvious exceptions: injury to the pitcher, weather delays, etc. The umpires would have discretion in these scenarios.
What about extra innings? To that I ask how many times do you see mid-inning pitching changes in extra innings? They are rare, and even more rare the deeper the game goes into extras. So this will kind of take care of itself. There is no need to waive the rule for situations in which such pitching changes are not usually made.
Will this change bring back games of less than two hours? No, of course not. But it could make managers think twice about bringing in a pitcher to face one batter, resulting in two additional commercial breaks in one half-inning. It will bring a new layer of strategy to the game. If a team doesn't have any players on the bench, then the pitcher has to stay out there. It might make a team decide to add a sixth utility player instead of a ninth reliever to the roster.
Most importantly, it would be a fun change and give people something to talk about in the stands and at home. Instead of, "Oh no, a pitching change," it would be, "Ooh, who's coming out of the field? Or will he switch DH's?" Baseball fans love the intrigue, the way the lineup works. This would give them a reason to stay tuned during a pitching change instead of switching channels or going to the bathroom or shutting off the TV and going to bed. And fan engagement is why we love the games we love, isn't it?