Tag: Rob Manfred
Get off my lawn, pitch clock
As I have previously mentioned, I am, shall we say, not a fan of baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. He's terrible. And his new rules imposed on the game, both prior to this year and the new batch in 2023, rankle me. Well, OK, the three-batter minimum for pitchers is fine. But about most of the rest, I am rankled.
Still, this year's batch of changes—the pitch clock, the shift ban, the pickoff limitations—are being met with overwhelmingly positive reaction from people who choose to opine on such things. This also rankles me, but the reasons are more amorphous and vague.
Take Pos and Schur's effusive praise of the new normal. Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur have a podcast ("The Poscast") I find very entertaining (except when they go too long on about non-baseball sports). This week's Poscast was mostly about the new rules and, as Schur put it, he finds them "an unmitigated success." Pos calls the new setup "so awesome" and thinks criticism of it is "insanity." I generally love these guys, but this is…excessive.
They illustrate their position by comparing the pitch-clock setup to the extreme of the previous norm, referring to a side-by-side video someone posted of an entire half-inning of a spring training game from this year alongside a clip of Pedro Baez facing the Cubs in the postseason a few years ago that encompassed a single pitch over the same span of time. Yes, that Pedro Baez example is excessive. That wasn't good and making such an extreme sequence impossible isn't bad in and of itself. But it wasn't a representative AB, it was very much an outlier.
They further cite comparisons to other sports to justify the pitch clock. "Imagine basketball without a shot clock," Schur says. Well, Michael, I don't know or give a damn about basketball. Or football or hockey or any of the other examples he cites. A more frenetic pace might well be appropriate for those games, I don't know. Those sports are not baseball. Baseball is unique. Those arguments mean nothing to me. Eventually he gets back to baseball and makes arguments that mean something, and I respect those, though I disagree with the idea that eliminating the ability of the pitcher to effectively hold a runner is a net good.
Posnanski reminds us that these new rules are a correction, the idea is to return the game to what it was 35, 40, 50 years ago when batters did not step out of the batters' box all the time and pitchers didn't consider his next delivery for a minute before getting into the stretch. And defenses didn't move around the field because of a batter's spray chart that says he never hits to the opposite field. And that, he says, is what we want.
That point I agree with. I do want the game to be played more like it was in the ’80s and ’90s. I just don't like this methodology.
Maybe I'm just a grumpy old man and once I give this a chance I'll be fine with it. Entirely possible. I freely admit that my resistance to accepting the pitch clock and shift ban is tied inextricably to everything else Rob Manfred has done since he took over as commissioner—ads on the field; ads on the uniforms; proscribing who can pitch and who can't; devaluing the season with extra Wild Card playoff slots that are just as good as winning a division; the fucking "zombie runner" in extra innings; and the worst of the worst, the "universal DH"—and giving him even indirect credit for anything feels like having to eat a bowl of moldy nutraloaf. Had Manfred not screwed around so much with these awful things already, I'd likely be closer to Pos and Schur's position.
Yet, having watched some spring training action this year, it does feel rushed. Not frenetic, necessarily, but maybe a little too fast. There is value in having a moment to ponder the next pitch selection for those of us who, you know, pay attention. 15 seconds might be too short a span. When a runner is aboard and the clock extends to 20 seconds it's not bad, that feels proper. It's early days, of course, and it's spring training, but part of the goal for these changes is to create more offense and what I'm seeing is actually more striking out. Batters aren't ready when they swing. That'll change as we move forward, the adjustment period is going to be at least a few weeks of in-game at-bats, but I think 15 might need to be, say, 18 or 20.
Practically speaking, I will not miss the infield shift. I do not like banning it, but batters have unequivocally refused to combat it. In the early days of infield shifts being common, Ken Griffey Jr. would take advantage of it once in a while and bunt to the empty side of the field for an easy hit. Skilled contact hitters could beat it. But that went away, analytics decreed that batters should just keep on trying to pull the ball and hit for power, so defenses started shifting on nearly everybody.
Schur describes the shifting-for-everybody as an "overcorrection" to the steroid era. I see what he means, but I don't like that description at all, because the underlying problem is so many more batters swinging for homers and that hasn't been corrected for at all. Emphasis on power hitting is the underlying problem as regards the infield shift. That plus emphasis on power pitching is the underlying problem behind excessive strikeouts.
Move fences back. Make homers harder to hit and make the outfielders cover more ground—which is also more like things were in the ’80s—and you'll see fewer homers but more singles, doubles, and triples. And when batters (one would hope) stop swinging for the fences all the time, fewer Ks. And less incentive for infield shifts.
The shift ban makes that last bit moot, there's no way that rule is ever going away now that it's in place. We're likely stuck with the pitch clock forever too, and with luck over time it'll fade into the background and not be such a distraction.
But I will campaign until the end of time to do away with the Manfred Man zombie runner and the worst rule of all, the designated hitter.No Comments yet
Another rant about Rob Manfred
Hey Rob, you're bad at your job and nobody likes you.
We're getting close to baseball season 2023. Which is, for some of us, all kinds of fun and cool. However, because we live in the Rob Manfred Era of Major League Baseball, it also means we need to prepare for what is now an annual period of adjustment to the new ways Commissioner Manfred has decided to screw with the game and piss us all off.
I've written plenty about Rob Manfred's penchant for damaging the game of baseball over at that-other-site-I-used-to-run-that-is-now-defunct-and-one-day-I-will-put-selected-posts-up-here-as-a-form-of-archiving. He is without a doubt the worst person to ever occupy the office of Commissioner of Baseball. He doesn't appear to even like baseball. He's all about incessantly tweaking anything he can think of if there's the slightest possibility it might mean more money for team owners in the short term. (Fuck the long term. Compared to Manfred, even Mr. Magoo has telescopic HD x-ray vision.)
Ever since Manfred took over the job, he's been altering the game in both large and small ways. To date it hasn't gone so far as to make the game unrecognizable, but give the guy a few more years and we'll be watching blernsball or Calvinball.
A lot of the alterations are "behind the scenes," dealing with money stuff and organizational rules about how long a stint on the injured list is, how the amateur draft is conducted, how many times a player can be shuttled back and forth to the minor leagues, that sort of thing, and those might be good or bad but they don't actually affect the game as it's played on the field from first pitch to last out. It's the on-field stuff that grates my cheese the most.
2023's new rules include:
- A pitch clock
- Bigger bases (18" square rather than the traditional 15")
- Restrictions on where defenders may position themselves
- Severely limiting what a pitcher may do to hold a runner close to a base
This, of course, is on top of other rules that were implemented since 2019, which include:
- The automatic intentional walk
- Three-batter minimum for pitchers
- A limit on how often catchers can go to the pitcher's mound
- Proscriptions on what players may and may not pitch and when
- The "zombie runner" in extra innings, which was supposed to be a temporary COVID-era measure that has, as of last Monday, been made "permanent."
- The metastasization of the cancer known as the designated hitter rule
- Diluting the season with added Wild Card teams in the playoffs
The only new rules I don't detest are the mound-visit limit and the three-batter minimum. Those actually add an element of strategy while addressing Manfred's complaint, which was so-called "dead time" while pitcher and catcher discussed tactics and too many pitching changes. Otherwise, these changes all completely suck. I could go into why for each of them, but I'll spare you that for now.
Manfred's stated goal with all these tweaks and changes is to "increase the pace of play," by which I think he really means "make the game more accessible for those with attention-deficit disorder." (Come to think of it, Manfred himself may well have ADHD, which would explain some of this nuttery.) His actual goals are open to speculation, but you would not be out of line to think dumbing things down is high on the list.
Unquestionably the experience of the game has slowed, for lack of a more accurate shorthand, over the past couple of decades. Relief pitching has become far, far more prevalent and that brought along the "dead time" of more pitching changes during games; existing rules regulating batters stepping out of the batter's box were not enforced and more and more players developed Nomar Garciaparra-like habits; the steroid-era created so much more emphasis on home-run power that more and more and more players adopted approaches to hitting that made "This misnomer of a phrase refers to a plate appearance resulting in a strikeout, a walk, or a home run. A “three-true-outcome hitter” is statistically unlikely to do anything else in any given time at bat.three-true-outcome" players common rather than rare; certain matchups like Yankees-Red Sox came to have so many mound meetings that if you worked it right you could time a trip to the concession stand during one and not miss a pitch. And, of course, TV demanded more commercial time, about which there's only so much anyone would be willing to change.
Imposing some sort of "correction" on the game to address this slowing isn't in and of itself something I would oppose categorically. On the contrary, I would very much like to see the obsession with home runs fade away and contact-hitting return to favor. That would reduce the number of pitches per at-bat, reduce the incentive for defenses to employ position shifts, even cut down on relief usage by allowing starting pitchers to go deeper into games before tiring. But you don't accomplish that by imposing a pitch clock; or, if you do, it's a side effect rather than the plan.
The pitch clock might work out OK in the end, but it sure seems problematic. It's pretty brief—not so much for the pitcher as for the batter; pitchers will have 15 seconds to start their throwing motion (20 if there are runners aboard), batters must be in their stance and “alert to the pitcher” within eight seconds. The problems come in when the time is exceeded and a ball or strike is added to the count to penalize whichever player wasn't ready in time. Imagine that happening during a tense moment in the late innings of a tight game. One effect might be that pitchers don't throw as hard, which would be welcome. Another might be that pitchers get hurt more often, which would not.
Larger bases...eh, they look weird, but this will quickly become "normal" and not be much of a thing. It's just a way to increase offense, get more safe calls, but it might make for fewer collisions and injuries to first basemen. I can live with it.
The restriction on pick-off attempts is the worst of these new changes, it's a naked tipping of the scale away from the defense in favor of baserunners. It'll turn every pitcher into Jon Lester, except he won't even be able to step off the pitching rubber or hold before the pitch to keep a runner close to the base. It's a much more significant change to the game than I think anyone realizes at this point. Don't get me wrong, I love stolen bases—my favorite team of all time is the 1985 Cardinals, after all—but don't cheapen them. Cat-and-mouse between a pitcher and a Lou Brock or a Vince Coleman on first was part of the tension, part of the thrill of getting a steal. Now it's gone.
Manfred has done away with the pitcher-runner tension, eliminated all strategy related to pitchers batting and worsened the existing DH rule to favor Shohei Ohtani alone while enacting rules that make future Ohtani-like "two-way" players nearly impossible, imposed radical restrictions on who can play where and in what circumstance, destroyed the potential for epic extra-inning games, cheapened the meaning of the long season schedule with almost participation-trophy tiers of playoffs, and that doesn't even get into his penchant for negotiating in bad faith, his pathetic response to cheating teams, his dishonest remarks to the press, basic stupidity about the game, and utter disregard for fans and consumers of the sport—his ostensible constituency as commissioner of baseball.
Or is it even ostensible? The fact of the matter is that ever since Bud Selig, then the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers (and thief of the Seattle Pilots), succeeded in his coup d'etat to overthrow Commissioner Fay Vincent to install himself in the position in 1992, there has been no figure in the MLB hierarchy that represents the baseball consumer. Selig made the job into a mouthpiece for ownership, an autocratic office firmly entrenched with championing the interests of club owners and club owners only. Calling the position "Commissioner of Baseball" is improper. Needs a new title, like "Agent of Greedy Asshats." I mean, there isn't a "commission" anymore. There aren't even league presidents to mediate.
The Commissioner position was created (well, technically reformed, but for all practical purposes created) in the wake of the Black Sox scandal and ensuing threats by National League officials to effectively destroy the American League by absorbing big-city AL teams into its own circuit. To contend with the public relations nightmare, an outsider was brought in to safeguard the national pastime as chair of the reimagined National Baseball Commission, which was to be made up of, by design and specific intent, people not otherwise affiliated with the business of professional baseball. That chairperson was Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who insisted on being a commission of one and, as he knew the lords of the Majors needed him more than the other way around, negotiated himself ultimate authority as the commissioner to act "in the best interests of baseball" as a whole, not of club owners or ballplayers or media figures or any other isolated group. Essentially, to represent the consumers, the public, as well as mediate disputes, regulate conflict, and be a check on ownership (players of the time didn't have any power to check). Subsequent commissioners had the same authority, purview, and requirement to be otherwise unaffiliated with the business of the leagues. Until Bud Selig's coup, which almost immediately begat the 1994-95 strike. (The revisionist history of Selig's reign reminds me a lot of how people talk about George W. Bush—"he kept us safe." You know, except for that one time. "Selig presided over great growth of the game," you know, except for that one time.)
Manfred claims to have the fans' interests at heart. “I think that the concern about our fans is at the very top of our consideration list,” he actually said with a straight face during the last collective bargaining sessions with the players' union, after which he imposed a lockout and canceled the beginning of the 2022 season.
Baseball doesn't have a commissioner, it has an agent of greed, and in this case one that doesn't like the sport and wants to make it something else.
I'm trying to keep an open mind on the pitch clock. But I suspect the law of unintended consequences will rear its ugly head and it'll be bad.No Comments yet
Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred, laughing maniacally as he continues to mold the game of baseball like a toddler pounding a lump of play-doh into an unrecognizable blob
He's at it again.
The Commissioner of Baseball, one Robert D. Manfred, has made it his mission to turn the game he is the current custodian of into something all of its previous custodians would not recognize. So far, he has instituted a swarm of smallish rule changes as well as a few huge ones to Major League Baseball and he's got more coming next year.
If I may paraphrase J. Jonah Jameson, the man is a menace.
Manfred simply does not like baseball, at least not in the sense of the game as a whole, balanced concept that requires strategic thinking and intellectual trade-offs to navigating the game. Nor does he value competitive integrity or the richness of detail. He likes simple. He likes not to have to think. He likes short attention spans.
Thus far, the Manfred regime has given us:
- The no-pitch intentional walk
- The "universal" designated hitter (ugh)
- Requiring teams to declare in advance who is a pitcher and who is not and imposing a limit on how many pitchers a team can carry
- The "zombie runner" in extra innings (which some of a certain age have humorously taken to calling the "Manfred Man")
- An entirely avoidable and self-inflicted labor stoppage that delayed the opening of this season
- Expanded playoffs, the first taste of which we'll get next month, which now allows nearly half the teams in the Majors into the postseason and devalues both the season as a whole and the winning of a division title
- Advertising on the fields, not just on stadium walls and scoreboard signage, but on the fields themselves (in foul territory and on the pitcher's mound)
- Advertising on uniforms, which we'll start to see in this year's playoffs and will be an everyday thing starting next year
- The three-batter minimum for pitchers (this one I actually don't have a problem with, though the reason it came into being is no better than the rest of this)
- Ugly unis for the All-Star Games
- Effective acceptance of the Houston Astros' cheating scandal with virtually no repercussions for the perpetrators
Starting in 2023 we will also now have:
- A pitch clock. No longer will baseball be the game with no clock, there will be one to mandate that pitchers and batters move things along regardless of circumstance. Well, not quite regardless—the clock will have 15 seconds on it when the bases are empty, 20 when a runner is on base. If a pitcher takes too long before delivering a pitch, a ball will be added to the count; likewise, if a batter steps out or isn't ready to go within eight seconds (he will be permitted to request a time out once per plate appearance) a strike will be added. Further, only 30 seconds will be permitted between batters; if the next batter in the lineup isn't ready to go 30 seconds after the previous play, he starts with a count of strike one. Despite this having been experimented with in the minor leagues in recent seasons, it remains to be seen how this will play out; it might be OK. Used to be that the players that were slower to deliver a pitch or who took "excessive" time at the batter's box between pitches were relatively rare, but today they're more commonplace and it will at least be interesting to see if this cuts down on so-called dead time without disrupting anything else. But the law of unintended consequences pretty much guarantees there will be issues.
- A limit on how often a pitcher can try to pick off a baserunner. This is a clear and blatant declaration that pitchers should not care about runners; Manfred has openly said he wants to "create more action," which apparently means preventing a defense from trying to get runners out. I love the stolen base, it's one of my favorite plays, but all this does is cheapen it.
- A restriction on where defenders can play. For the history of the game, only the pitcher and catcher were required to be at any specific point on the field. No longer. Two infielders must begin each play on either side of second base and forward of the outfield grass. No more shifting three infielders to one side, no more moving your second baseman into the outfield, no more four-outfielder defenses. This also is based on Manfred's desire for "more action," and because batters as a whole have chosen not to combat defensive shifts over the years, it probably will result in more base hits as fielders will be prevented form playing where they should be allowed to play. The language of the rule is vague enough that someone will at some point cause it to be clarified; it's intention is to maintain the restriction until "the pitcher releases the ball," but it also says the infielders "may not switch sides during the game." So when J.P. Crawford makes a great play running from his shortstop position to flag down a hard grounder on the outfield grass at the right side of second base, is he in violation of the rule? I think not, but someone will exploit the language to challenge such a play.
- Larger bases. The bases on the field will grow from 12" square to 15" square. This will be odd at first but quickly folded into expected norm, I think. Again, this is to give offenses a boost by making it that much harder to get baserunners out. The one positive to this is the extra area will give first basemen a little more of a safety margin on potential collisions on close plays at first, but this could have been accomplished simply by extending the base an inch or two into foul territory instead.
- The completion of the destruction of the American and National Leagues as anything more than labels. Manfred's predecessor started this process in the ’90s, but with this year's adoption of the designated hitter rule (pause for dry heaves) by the National League and next year's change in the schedule that has every team play every other team in both leagues during the regular season, the merger from two distinct entities into one is concluded.
Not one of these changes was made with the good of the game in mind. Every one has been with an eye toward getting bigger short-term profits for a business that already rakes in $10 billion in annual revenue.
Manfred believes that the game needs to be dumbed down and sped up in order to attract younger viewers with short attention spans. He thinks that making the game into something else will get him bigger television ratings. He things more playoff games will mean more TV money overall. He thinks that the baseball audience likes hitting and doesn't care about fielding and by making these changes to unbalance things a bit that people who do not watch baseball will decide they now will watch baseball.
Which is just dumb.
You don't say, "hey, non-fans, I know my game is slow and boring because it requires thinking and thus doesn't appeal to you, so I've dumbed it down closer to your level and made it a little bit more frenetic! You like that, right?" and expect to convert everyone. People who come to baseball come to it because it's different. Because if you know what's going on, that so-called dead time isn't usually so, there's actually tension and stuff going on strategically.
A pitcher worried about a stolen base threat on first was actually valuable to both sides if you understood the situation. Having the pitcher in the lineup made for decisions during the game and a thought process about building your team and planning a game that are just wiped out now. Having the option to dare a batter to hit the other way by leaving a whole third of the field undefended was an opportunity for both teams to exploit. Gone. Sure, few if any people will miss the Nomar Garciaparra-like ritual of stepping out of the box, re-fastening the batting gloves, and taking three practice swings like a mini-hokey-pokey before every pitch, but not many guys did that.
Frankly, the 2023 changes aren't going to be as big a deal as the ones we're already seeing now (or have known are coming, like the jersey ads), which are far more damaging. The pitch clock, the shift ban, sure, I object to them on principle, but in the old days shifts were rare and few players took a lot of time between pitches anyway, so it won't seem too bad. The step-off rule, that I hate and can't figure why any pitcher would approve of it.
Still, I'd accept it all gladly if Manfred would use his new, negotiated ultimate power to impose changes without union approval to abolish the DH and consign it to a fiery death.No Comments yet