I have read recently that Rob Manfred, the commissioner of baseball, and the rest of the management of Major League Baseball are contemplating changing the rules for intentional walks. I do not consider myself to be a baseball “purist,” and I do not mean to toot my own horn, but I am well-versed in advanced metrics and novel strategy, and you can read my thoughts on revamping modern bullpen management and roster construction elsewhere on this blog. I do not think the shift should be outlawed. I do think that both leagues need some sort of uniformity when it comes to the designated hitter, and I do not necessarily think that guys like Clemens and Bonds should be held out of the Hall of Fame. Sure, some of these views fall under the umbrella of “baseball purist,” but when taken as a package, they do not reflect any specific ideology but my own.
While the intentional walk is an integral part of baseball games, it does not happen that often. Only one in roughly every 180 at bats (that’s once roughly every two to three games) results in an intentional walk, and I do not have the numbers on this, but my guess is that a not insignificant number of those intentional walks are used to put the eighth hitter on base so the pitcher on the hill can face the opposing pitcher in National League contests. I can give you my opinions on instating the designated hitter in the National League at a later time, but for now I can only address intentional walks while having in mind that pitchers in the NL hit on a regular basis.
For those of you who have never been to a baseball game below the college level, managers are generally allowed to “intentionally walk” opposing hitters by calling timeout and letting the umpire know that he would like for the batter to take first base. This is what Commissioner Manfred would change the current system to in order to “preserve time.” My question to Commissioner Manfred would be this: Do you really think making intentional walks automatic would be the best way to tackle the issue of game length?
Earl Weaver, a Hall of Fame Manager once said, “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.” Mr. Weaver hit the nail on the head here. I think his quote contributes to part of the beauty of the game of baseball; there is no time minimum or maximum, you just play until one team is leading after nine innings or more. I don’t think that time-of-game is one of the more pressing issues in baseball right now, but I digress from this issue at hand.
This is purely anecdotal, but I watched a few videos of intentional walks on Youtube, and it seems that most intentional walks only take somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds to complete. You want to know an easier way to knock 45 seconds off of a game? Shorten the inning clock by three seconds. I’m serious! There are 16 changeovers, minimum, in a baseball game, and if you shorten each of those changeovers by three seconds, that adds up to 48 seconds total. There you go, Commissioner Manfred, I saved you an additional three seconds. You’re welcome.
Eliminating the need for pitchers to actually throw all four balls in an intentional walk would also take away the possibility of wild pitches or missed pitches, and who doesn’t love a little bit of craziness in an at-bat? Take Gary Sanchez this past season, for example. Sanchez, as I hope you know, was an absolute monster last year and hit 20 HR in only 53 games. At the beginning of September (Sanchez had hit 13 HR in 147 plate appearances up to this point), the Yankees were facing off against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Bombers were leading 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning with one out and runners on second and third. Sanchez was at the dish. With first base open, the Rays elected to intentionally walk Sanchez. Rather, they attempted to intentionally walk Sanchez. Enny Romero, a reliever for the Rays, threw a ball a bit too close to the plate on his intentional walk attempt, and Sanchez walloped the ball all the way to the warning track in center field. Instead of going down as an intentional walk, Sanchez got credit for a sacrifice fly and brought the runner home from third, giving the Yanks a 4-1 lead heading into the 9th inning. They would go on to win that game. If Major League Baseball decides to go this route and eliminate the need for pitchers to actually throw four balls on an intentional walk, we won’t have the opportunity to witness any hitters do what Sanchez did in the future.
Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera did a similar thing back when he was with the Marlins, though his actually went for a hit. In 2006, Cabrera and the Marlins were facing the Orioles, and the two teams were tied in the top of the tenth. The Marlins had a runner on second with one out, and, as any smart team would, the Orioles decided it would be best to just put Cabrera on and face Cody Ross instead. It was a good idea, but Orioles’ pitcher Todd Williams ended up throwing the ball just a bit too close to the plate, and Cabrera lined what would have been ball one into centerfield and drove in the runner from second. Does Major League Baseball really think eliminating this possibility is a better route to pursue than just knocking three seconds off the clock in between innings?
I could go on and talk about each instance that a pitcher has thrown a wild pitch or accidentally left the ball too close to the plate, but you get the gist. My point here is this: the intentional walk rule is not one that needs changing. If Major League Baseball wants to speed games up, there are better ways to bring about change than by eliminating four pitches every three games.
(Photo Credit: Major League Baseball via Cut4)