7-inning games? MLB minds offer new rules

February 17th, 2017

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Proposed rules changes were the topic du jour at MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred's news conference at Spring Training Media Day, as he expounded upon the strike zone, the intentional walk, the time managers have to ask for a replay review and the pending Rookie-ball experiment with automatic baserunners in extra innings.
And so, within that context, and with the room filled with bright baseball minds from a variety of Grapefruit League teams, we proposed the following question:
If you could install a Major League rule change for one day, just to see how it affects the strategy or the action, what would it be? 
Spring Training info
Eliminate shifts? Limit the number of pitching changes a manager can make? A Home Run Derby in lieu of extra innings? Make the players run the bases clockwise?
What would you do?
Here are some of the better responses we received:
Add the pitch clock
Baseball famously is a sport without a clock, but Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is all for changing that ever so slightly.
"There's so much wasted time," Cashman said. "I think we'd all be better served for that."
A 20-second pitch clock has been in effect at the Double-A and Triple-A levels since 2015, and the world has, in fact, not caved in on itself.
"Some people have a routine that takes longer than normal and if they have superstar status, it will give them a platform to grumble about it," Cashman said. "But over time, it becomes the new norm. Life is about changes and adjustments. Everybody adapts to the new world order, whatever that is. I know it would benefit us, and over time maybe it's something that will be implemented."
Make relievers face at least three batters
This came from an especially reputable source -- Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who doubles as chairman of the rules committee.
"One of the things about baseball," Alderson said, "is that there are so few lead changes at the end of the game as compared to other sports. And part of that is attributable to the dominance of relief pitching. You've got guys coming in and throwing high-90s all the time, and it makes it very difficult on the offensive side of the game. If a lefty had to pitch to at least three hitters as opposed to just coming in to pitch to one, it might improve the pace of game, it might change the tenor of the last two or three innings, where you might have more lead changes, which I think would be exciting for fans."

Seven-inning games
This one came courtesy of Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins.
"That's not something you'd test in Spring Training [or for one day]," Atkins said. "That's something you'd test over the course of a season. I understand the complexities of that, I understand why you wouldn't try that. But if it is just a test, I would love to know what the results would be at the end of that."
Atkins said games never feel long to him, so it wouldn't be about time of game, necessarily, but rather about strategy. Carve a couple innings off the game, and managers can get even more aggressive with their bullpen usage patterns.
"I wonder how it would impact so many different contributing pieces," Atkins said. 
Eliminate the designated hitter
This one came from a surprising source -- an American League executive. Specifically, Rays vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom.
"I think if we did allow our pitchers to hit more often, they would all find that to be awesome," Bloom said. "It would be extremely popular to let them hit."
Actually, perhaps a Rays rep isn't a surprising source for this one, given the realities of small-market club construction.
"I do think, from our standpoint, as a small-market team in a division with big-market clubs, they're able to capitalize on the DH from a financial perspective in a way that we haven't been," Bloom said. "Although with Big Papi retired, it's probably less of a sensitivity than it's been in the past."
Limit a pitcher's throws to first base
We've all seen those tiresome situations in which a pitcher, either as a means to stall or out of legitimate fear of the baserunning threat, throws to first an unbearable number of times. Braves general manager John Coppolella says cap it at, say, two throws and move on.
"Guys wouldn't stall," Coppolella said. "They'd have to figure it out."
Of course, those of different generations can view a situation, well, differently. Coppolella said when he's run this idea by Braves team president John Schuerholz and president of baseball operations John Hart, it didn't go over so well.
"They weren't quite as keen on it," Coppolella said with a laugh. "But that would just be my own rule if I owned the world."