Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred discusses pace of play
July 26, 2016 12:00 AM
Pirates pitcher Jarod Hughes, left, with reliever Mark Melancon in spring training, doesn't agree with the commissioner's pace-of-play suggestion of limiting the number of relief pitchers used in games.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Earlier this month, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred likened the league’s pace-of-play problems to the dandelions growing in his front lawn — “I just can’t get rid of it,” he said. “It’s an ongoing problem.” Last week, in an interview on ESPN, Manfred hinted at an unlikely, perhaps hare-brained proposal to speed up games: Limit the use of relief pitchers.
“I am in favor of something like that,” Manfred said. “We’ve spent a ton of time on this issue in the last few months. You know the problem with relief pitchers is that they’re so good. I’ve got nothing against relief pitchers, but they do two things to the game: The pitching changes themselves slow the game down, and our relief pitchers have become so dominant at the back end that they actually rob action out of the end of the game, the last few innings of the game.”
Manager Clint Hurdle, who overheard Manfred’s remarks on TV in the Pirates clubhouse, said, “Those are interesting comments. I’m sure he gave it some thought. I don’t feel the same way.”
That the pace has slackened is difficult to dispute. The average time of a major league game this year is 3 hours, 4 minutes — 15 minutes slower than an average game time in 2005. The duration of nine-inning Pirates games this year has spanned from 2:24 to 4:01.
Would cutting relief pitcher availability be the quick fix?
“I don’t think that’s the answer, honestly,” Andrew McCutchen said. “It’s not going to somehow change the game so drastically to where we’re like, oh, that’s what we needed to do. No, it’s not going to happen. Pace of play overall we cut, what, a couple minutes in baseball?”
Count McCutchen among the players who believe the game doesn’t really need to speed up anyway.
“This game is a game that’s chill,” he said. “It’s laid back. It’s not football. It’s not basketball. It’s not boom, boom, boom with a shot clock. That’s the way this game works. It’s kind of like golf. In golf, you have your pace. Your pace is your pace. Regardless of what you do to speed it up, it’s still going to be slow. … If it’s that boring of a game, then you don’t like baseball. You know what baseball is.
“Get your money’s worth, as opposed to, dang, that was quick. I’ve been to basketball games — it’s fun, but it’s fast. It’s over and I’m like, man, I wish I could have been there another 30 minutes or something, because I enjoyed this. I enjoy it. I enjoy going to games, sitting back and watching. If it takes 18 innings, it takes 18 innings. I just don’t want to be in the sun.”
To Manfred’s first point, that pitching changes slow the game, right-hander Jared Hughes simply shrugged. He worries that the league clamping shut the bullpen door would mean more pitches, more stress and more chance of injury for relievers. Hughes sees replay reviews as a much bigger factor in pace-of-play problems. And he flatly disagrees that relief pitchers “rob action.”
“I see good pitching as every bit as exciting to watch as good hitting,” Hughes said. “You have Mark [Melancon] come in and close a game, the fans are on their feet. They absolutely love it. …
“If you’re telling me that good pitching late in games is causing fans to lose interest in the game, that’s completely wrong. In my opinion, baseball is a beautiful game. And, yeah, it takes a little bit of time. Sometimes it takes three hours-plus. I think we should respect the beauty of the game.”
To Manfred’s second point, that relief pitchers are too good, McCutchen, too, shrugged. All pitchers are better in today’s game, he said. Relievers aren’t making the game easier, but they aren’t making it worse.
“How many starting pitchers now are throwing 88 to 91 mph?” he asked. “Not many. It’s slowly diminishing. Every starter is throwing mid- to upper-90s now. Now you’ve got the bullpen, and these guys are throwing one inning. They’re throwing hard. They’ve got a job, too.
“They were born and bred to pitch, just like we were born and bred to hit. Is it making it more boring? No, I don’t think so. You’ve just got to admit that the pitching is better. What can you do about it? I don’t know. Have a better strike zone.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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