After floating around tons of bad ideas to change baseball, the powers at be have finally decided to implement one of the wretched tweaks to the game. Pitchers will no longer have to throw the baseball to issue an intentional walk.
Ignoring for a moment all the times an intentional walk has gone wrong (more on that below), we need to ask ourselves — what makes a baseball game interesting and fun to watch?
The extra innings pitchers’ duel. The back and forth slugfest where it seems like whoever has the last at-bat will win. The guy carrying a no-hitter into the 7th. The home team down 3 with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th.
These are all iconic examples of games that people end up enjoying and talking about. They all have one thing in common — tension.
Interesting baseball is not defined by offense. A 14-2 blowout is decidedly boring baseball, for both sides, unless of course the losing team makes a comeback. Great pitching can also make for boring baseball, as plenty of 4-1 affairs have felt over in the 5th inning. It’s the tension of baseball that makes for memories.
Which is, of course, why removing the requirement that a pitcher actually throw the ball to intentionally walk someone is counterproductive to baseball.
When there are runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out and a 1-run lead on the line, the intentional walk serves as almost a cinematic crescendo. You slide to the edge of your seat with each pitch, knowing that a bases loaded at-bat is coming up. If you’re a fan of the team with the lead, you may pace in front of the television, praying that a passed ball doesn’t bring a run home.
The intentional walk, as is, builds tension, which baseball needs more of, not less.
Add in the fact that the intentional walk change will save almost no time (which is ultimately the goal, to quicken the game), and this just seems silly:
Intentional walks took an estimated 1410 minutes in 2016.
That is 35 seconds per game. Is the automatic IBB really gonna fix pace of play?
— MLB Statistics (@MLBRandomStats) February 22, 2017
Are we really killing one of the most tension-building moments in baseball to shave half of a minute off of a 3-hour game?
And of course, we also kill moments like this, where a botched intentional walk creates history:
If baseball wants to get serious about quickening the game, the powers at be need to get creative. Even without accounting for pitching changes, baseball games include a minimum of 16 commercial breaks during play (between each half inning). With each of these breaks running almost 3 minutes (despite efforts to trim them down), we’re talking almost an hour of commercials during a 3-hour enterprise.
Proposals to introduce a pitch clock, shorten the time in which a manager can challenge a call, and limit the number of pick off attempts are also floating around. Some of these have merit, although they need to be weighed and measured. It’s perplexing that Major League Baseball would start with the most nonsensical of the time-trimming proposals.
Oh, by the way, the intentional walk has also helped out my favorite 2nd Baseman:
But I’ve scored twice on an overthrow during an intentional walk… 🤔 https://t.co/cSHhsBQknY
— Jason Kipnis (@TheJK_Kid) February 22, 2017
Baseball has branding problems, demographic issues, and yes, some time issues. Ultimately, these problems will be exasperated by games featuring less cinematic tension. That makes this rule change counterproductive and stupid.