Odds on 2017 MLB Rule Changes

Instant replay delay in the MLB
By Keith Allison (flickr)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a major sports league is trying to speed up play. I guess that doesn’t work so well through text, but I’ll assume that you stopped me. This time it’s the MLB that wants to improve the watch-ability of its games by picking up the pace.

Back in March, the league announced seven rule changes largely focused on shortening games. While not many take issue with the 30-second limit for a manager to to challenge a play, not all rules are being met so kindly. One that has drawn some ire pertains to intentional walks.

No longer will we have to watch the catcher step outside to receive four unhittable pitches. Instead, the manager can just signal to the home plate umpire that they would like to intentionally walk the batter. Sure, this will save some time, but the intentional walk is a play that isn’t executed at a 100-percent rate. Games have been won and lost by a wild pitch when trying to sacrifice first-base.

What effect will these new rules have on the game? Will this set of changes open the door for more? We’ve got the odds here.

2017 MLB Rule Changes

O/U total intentional walks in 2017: 930.5

Last season we saw 932 intentional walks, but I don’t think any team held back out of fear of a wild pitch. The number won’t be affected.

O/U total plays challenged in 2017: 1,400

Baseball fans had to sit through 1,531 replays last season. This was up from 1,360 in 2015. Under the new rules, umpires can’t invoke a replay review for a manager who has used his challenge until the eighth inning, so the overall number of replays should decrease a little. Add in a few indecisive managers who can’t make a decision within the new 30-second time limit and we should be in for a noticeable drop.

Odds a manager’s challenge is accepted after the 30-second limit: 2/3

Though I expect this to be strictly enforced, at least one challenge will be accepted after the decision takes 31 seconds.

O/U total number of replays that take longer than the two-minute guideline: 200.5

Take notice of the difference in wording between the two replay time counts. The manager has a 30-second “limit” to challenge. The umpires have a two-minute “guideline” to complete the process. The crew will continue taking as long as they need to make the proper call.

O/U average length of games in 2017: 2 hrs 45 mins

In theory, these changes should shorten the game some. However, I don’t think the league is targeting the appropriate plays to make a noticeable difference. It is rare to see a manager take much longer than 30 seconds to make a decision on challenging a play. And each manager is only given one challenge. So I’m not sure we’re shaving a whole lot of time there.

Intentional walks only added an average of 35 seconds per game in 2016. Between the manager getting the decision to his pitcher and then relaying it to the umpire, I don’t see a lot of saved time there, either.

If baseball wants to really shorten their games, they’ll put a limit on visits to the mound and add a pitch-clock. Until then, the games will continue to be significantly longer than NHL and NBA games.

Possible Future Changes (Next Five Years)

Odds the league institutes a limit on mound visits per game: 5/3

This is the most reasonable way to shorten games. When a pitcher is struggling, the game is often stopped by the catcher, manager, or pitching coach. The pitcher gets a little pep talk, holding up the game for a couple minutes. Casual baseball fans would love this rule change. Purists would be up in arms.

Odds the MLB adds a pitch-clock: 7/3

Receive the ball from the catcher, get the signalled pitch, set yourself, and then deliver the pitch. This shouldn’t take that long. But some pitchers — I’m looking at you, Pedro Baez — take an excruciatingly long time. Put them on the clock already! Again, purists would hate this.

Odds on shorter breaks between innings: 4/1

The league announced they’d be reducing the commercial breaks between half-innings by 20 seconds this year. Don’t expect the MLB to give up any more ad time.

Odds to limit the number of pitching changes per game: 9/1

It may seem practical, but this would bring about player safety concerns. You can’t ask a gassed pitcher to just keep on chucking.

Odds to eliminate innings: 500/1

You get 27 outs, then it’s the other team’s turn! I think that’s sort of how cricket works. There’s no doubt this would shorten games. But it’s not happening.