The Big Mac Blog

A quick solution to MLB’s pace of play crisis

The addition of replay by MLB is another reason why an inherently slow game is slower, but it could speed up if umpires called the strikezone the way it’s designed.
The addition of replay by MLB is another reason why an inherently slow game is slower, but it could speed up if umpires called the strikezone the way it’s designed. AP

Major League Baseball wants to hurry things up, but the all of its new measures implemented this spring to hasten the pace of play will not have the same desired effect as one simple change.

Because I am cursed with the intellect of an ancient philosopher and rooted in the pragmatism of Stephen Hawking, I can fix MLB’s pace of play with one move:

If MLB told its fleet of umpires to call the srikezone the way it’s designed in the rule book there would be no need for pitch clocks, or threats from umps to get moving.

MLB wants it both ways – it wants runs, because fans want scoring in sports. But it doesn’t want these tedious long games, because fans want to go home. You can’t have a reasonable game length – think 2 hours and 30 minutes – without giving up a few runs.

The average length of an MLB game last season was three hours and two minutes. That’s madness.

Most players do not care about the length of game, or pace of play. The media will whine because they want to go home, so who cares about us. The priority should be the ticket-paying customer who wants to see a complete game, and arrive home in a reasonable time.

If umpires just called the high strike, all of this is solved. The high strike as its defined by the rule book would force batters to swing, and generate outs a little quicker and as a result move the game along. As it stands now, hitters watch a “strike” go by secure in the knowledge it will be called a ball.

According to the rule book, the strikezone is just above the knees and just below the arm pits. In MLB, that’s a myth.

“The high strike is just above the belt,” Texas Rangers veteran pitcher Jamey Wright told me.

“(The high strike) is belt high, for me,” Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder said.

So the MLB strikezone these days is just above the knees to just above the belt.

I asked Fielder, “What happened to the strike just below the armpit?”

“You would have no-hitters if you called that a strike,” Fielder said. “That’s not a strike at all. If they called that, it would not be fun to watch because nobody can hit that.”

It all comes down to the type of baseball game you like. Me, I’m for 4-3 or 3-2. A 10-8 baseball game does not feel like baseball. It feels like extended batting practice.

Most players and managers agree the reason for the small strikezone is that it guarantees offense. Pitchers groove strikes that are hittable, thus guaranteeing offense that the owners want to give fans. That the umps are calling it the way the owners want; a longer game keeps fans in the stands, buying food and merchandise.

Rangers veteran pitcher Yovani Gallardo does not believe enforcing the high strike would make that much of a difference. He is of the mind that pitchers don’t want to go there anyway because today’s major league hitters will slaughter pitches that are up.

“We are just taught to throw the ball down,” Gallardo said. “You do see guys pitch up in the zone every now and then for a strikeout, but it’s more for a chase pitch.”

Gallardo does not believe pitchers would get hitters out with a high strike whereas Fielder does.

They should both have the chance, and that would do what MLB wants and quicken the pace of play.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @macengelprof