Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Little League World Series and why we need to increase the pace of baseball

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been watching bits and pieces of the Little League World Series, and I've gotta say, it makes for great baseball. It's fun to watch the kids play and occasionally make a major-league-worthy catch that truly makes you say, "WOW!" Here is ESPN's compilation of the top 10 LLWS plays. My personal favorite is number 6: the outfielder for Kentucky takes a awkward route to a routine fly ball and then stretches for a dramatic snag of the ball to end the inning.

What really stood out for me from the tournament was not just the spectacular pitching and the amazing web gems. The reason that it was so fun to watch was because the pace of the game was rapid and exciting. There was no adjustment of batting gloves after every pitch, no endless series of pickoff attempts, no manager-umpire confrontations. I've always thought about it while watching professional baseball, but the LLWS really made me realize that MLB games are just too long.

In a 2005 ESPN study, they discovered that there is approximately 26.3 seconds between pitches in MLB. Why is that? Why does it take so long? To find the answer, you just have to watch one major-league at-bat. And since the Rangers-Angels game is on right now, I'm going to summarize the current at-bat of that game.

The pitcher is Colby Lewis. The inning is the top of the 3rd, two outs, Vernon Wells on first, Alberto Callaspo at the plate. Lewis has just given up an RBI single to Wells and the pitching coach comes up to talk to him. That in itself takes 30 seconds. Then Lewis gets the signal from the catcher. He enters his windup, begins to throw, and then BAM! A pickoff attempt to first that was so far behind Wells that I don't even know why Lewis bothered to try to pick him off. Before one pitch has been thrown in this at-bat, we've already wasted 1 minute. It takes Lewis about 15 seconds to throw the first pitch, a ball up and in. Then, we wait for 10 seconds as Callaspo adjusts his shirt and Lewis evens out the dirt on the mound. And then, we have another pickoff attempt. The next two pitches thrown are a ball and a strike. It is taking Lewis about 20 seconds to get off each pitch. Before the next pitch, we have another pickoff attempt. I stop watching the game. I am getting really bored of these pickoff attempts.

You don't see that kind of at-bat in the LLWS. Each pitch is rattled off in less than 10 seconds. The batter seldom leaves the batter's box, let alone adjusts his gloves. The pitcher does not have some complex pitching ritual involving flattening out the mound, adjusting his necklace, and staring at the catcher for 10 seconds. No. We just have a quick, rapid-fire at-bat. And that's how I .like it.

I recently read an article in Sports Illustrated (I can't remember which issue), where the author revisited a game from the early days of television. He wrote about how the pace of the game was much faster back then, how the game was much more enjoyable. I agree with him: baseball has been stretched out into a 3-hour affair when each game can likely be finished in 2 hours. How will we accomplish that? By making a rule that the batter cannot leave the batter's box in an at-bat. By enforcing the 12-seconds-between-pitches-with-no-one-on-base rule. By having the pitcher run to the dugout to talk with the manager than having the often elderly managers slowly walk to the mound every time. By limiting the number of pickoff attempts per at-bat.

There are plenty of ways to increase the speed of the game. Just watch the Little League World Series and see for yourself.

What do you think?

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