With an unprecedented value on analytics in the Major League Baseball, the game has certainly changed. It’s not the game your grandfather grew up with or even your father, but that’s OK.
Change is a good thing, right?
As a 21-year-old baseball fan, I have grown up with the changes that have come from that past two MLB commissioners, Bud Selig and Rob Manfred. These changes have been made to ‘speed up the game’ and ‘attract younger audiences.’
After watching two weeks of the 2018 season, I think some changes need to be made to help accomplish what Selig and Manfred have laid the groundwork to do. I propose four simple ways the MLB can get back on track.
Step 1: Get rid of replay
The inclusion of instant replay and managers’ challenge has abandoned baseball’s uniqueness and has tried to conform to the other three major North American sports.
Replay was called for by the fans after a botched call by an umpire in the do-or-die 2012 Wild Card playoff game between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.
Since 2013, when replay was initiated into the game, it was met with staunch objections by baseball purists. The managers’ challenge came a year later. I didn’t have a problem with it because I thought of all the times umpires made the wrong call against my team.
If replay had been around, perhaps one of the biggest umpiring blunders would have never happened. Cough cough… Remember when Jim Joyce blew Armando Galarraga’s perfect game in the ninth inning?
Ultimately, replay needs to go.
According to MLBreplays.com, there have been 5,359 replays in it’s four year existence with 2,628 baseball plays being overturned while 2,731 plays have been upheld. The scales still show that 51 percent of the time umpires made the correct call despite a 49 percent overruling rate.
These reviews are coaxed by someone who looks at the review and signals to the team within 10 seconds to challenge a call. There is still human error.
If anything, the statistics have shown that umpires are still making the right calls. Not to mention that the review time takes awhile.
I think the MLB had their fun with the replay experiment, but it’s time to go. There should be no replacement. Let the game go back to the way it was. I’m sure Babe Ruth would ask for review if it were possible.
Step 2: Expand to a 28-man roster
Pitching is a premium in baseball. You can never have enough of it.
Dennis Eckersly and Rollie Fingers pitched in the wrong baseball era. With such an emphasis on relief pitchers in today’s game they may even be treated more delicately than starters.
Relievers have fetched a hefty price on the free agent market because they know they have a high usage rate.
Typical rosters carry 13 pitchers and 12 position players.
You figure there are eight guys on the field excluding the pitcher, on the bench is the backup catcher, an infielder and a fourth outfielder. That fourth player on the bench can normally play either corner spot in the infield or outfield.
There are five starting pitchers and eight relievers.
But what happens when a game goes into extra innings?
Players take on an extra workload. Some guys are not available the next day and sometimes they can lead to injuries. It happened in the recemt 14-inning marathon between the Baltimore Orioles and New New York Yankees when All-Star catcher Gary Sanchez had to leave the game after cramping up. He wasn’t in the lineup again until midweek.
Aside from extra innings and grueling use, teams can send guys to the minors if they have options left in their contract. Some teams have affiliates close by but others don’t, so it pays to have an extra player or two ready at a moment’s notice.
But if rosters expand from 25 to 28 players, teams can carry an extra bench player and two more arms.
Rosters expand to 40 men in September. Why can’t we see three of those guys start in the bigs at the beginning of the season?
Step 3: NL adopts the DH
The designated hitter was adopted by the American League in 1973. Creating the biggest difference between the two leagues in all of sports.
If the DH wasn’t created, would we have seen Hall of Famer Frank Thomas thrive or future Hall of Famer David Ortiz have a career? The answer we won’t know for sure but I can safely say it helped.
There is a different type of strategy that goes into preparing for a lineup in each league. The DH can be used anywhere in the lineup in the American League. In the National League, pitchers typically bat ninth in the order. However, with today’s analytics managers like new New York Mets skipper Mickey Calloway have been inclined to bat his pitchers eighth in the order.
From a fan point of view, it just feels like a waste when the pitcher steps to the plate: you assume they’re an easy out. Unless its Madison Bumgarner or Shohei Ohtani, it almost always is.
It reminds me, as I’m sure this is the case for many fellow millennials, of the game Backyard Baseball with chants like, “We want a batter, not a broken ladder.” Pitchers hitting in this case are the “broken ladders.”
It’s time for the pitchers to trade in their ‘Old Hickory’ for a rosin bag.
The DH is perfect for a player that is a talented hitter that doesn’t have a position.
Here’s my last plea for the DH in the National League.
The MLB hit a record 6,105 home runs last season, more than any season in the steroid era led by Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. The long ball has pulled fans back into the sport. You can thank reigning AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge and newly acquired Bronx Bomber Giancarlo Stanton.
It’s time to see more home runs in the National League.
Step 4: Interleague play needs to stop
Since the Houston Astros moved from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013, interleague play occurs all season long as opposed to when it was played in the summer months.
Teams devote a total of 2o games over eight series to interleague play.
Teams play their divisional opponents on average between 17 to 18 times a season.
It’s practically impossible to get rid of interleague play as it stands because there are 15 teams in each respective league and five teams in each division.
I mean, how inclined is the casual fan willing to watch an interleague matchup with low-quality teams like the Oakland Athletics and the Miami Marlins? Please don’t answer that.
Here is my proposal.
To get rid of interleague play, I suggest the addition of two new franchises expanding the league to 32 teams. One team in each league.
With 32 teams, the MLB can take a page out of the NFL’s book — yeah, I just said that — and structure it as four-team divisions.
There are two possible cities that I believe are deserving and can sustain an MLB franchise without stealing away a team’s fan base.
Montreal lost its team to Washington, D.C. and Olympic Stadium in Montreal has been dormant except for spring training like games. They packed it out to see the Toronto Blue Jays and top prospect Vlad Guerrero Jr. I think it’s time they bring them back.
Nashville has to be next. I think it’s really an untapped sports market.
Four steps is all it will take the MLB to improve their amazing product that leaves me wanting more the day the season is over.
In the word’s of Bryce Harper, “Let’s make baseball fun again.”
Dan Stokes is the Times Leader sports intern. Reach Times Leader sports at 570-829-7143 or on Twitter @TLsports