Sarah's Take: Evolution of the game must continue
Last weekend in his first TV interview as the new Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred expressed a desire to generate more offense in the game. Most people enjoy watching teams score a lot, because having offensive production provides action during the game.
Unless a person understands baseball well, low-scoring games can be perceived as dull. Baseball has many nuances that the casual fan has trouble understanding. Watching a pitching duel can be boring unless it will decide which team will go to the playoffs. Most people understand a no-hitter is a rarity, so they get excited about it.
Since 2006, when MLB began testing for performance-enhancing drugs, offensive production has decreased. Baseball now has instituted the stiffest penalties for abusing drugs in professional sports. During the TV interview, Manfred said that a player who's had a drug problem and got suspended for it should have a second chance to revive his career and be forgiven for his transgression. I agree with this and want to see how Alex Rodriguez does after a year suspension.
To continue generating interest in the sport, baseball has to change -- more action and a faster pace would help. Our lives are fast-paced, and we don't have the patience to watch a three-hour or longer game that has only three runs.
Manfred also talked about eliminating defensive shifts. A shift first was employed against the legendary Ted Williams, the last hitter who batted .400 for the entire season. It worked since he let his ego get in the way and thought it was a challenge to get a hit through the bunched up infielders. If he simply bunted up the third-base line, he would have gotten a hit. No other team would have tried it again.
Nowadays, nearly every team employs the shift against left-handed hitters, regardless if they are known as a pull hitter. It has gotten ridiculous. All teams claim that they have statistics to support their positioning in the infield. But they rarely put their outfielders on one side, and I have seen more doubles going down the right-field foul line than a little grounder going in between second basemen and shortstops off a left-handed hitter's bat. Now they are vacating third base to put the third baseman behind the second-base bag.
Of course, very few left-handed hitters will bunt to combat the shift. After a couple of months of frustration in 2014, Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers finally bunted down the third-base line. Teams continued to use the shift against him, but not as much as they had.
Eliminating the shift may be necessary, but the game isn't there yet. But we need to lessen the trips on the field by managers. This is a big time-waster. They usually saunter out there and talk to someone. Baseball doesn't have time for sauntering. The game needs to devise a signal system so that managers can stay in their dugouts and communicate whatever they want.
A green flag could tell the umpire that the manager wants a replay, and a brown flag could signal that he wants a new pitcher. OK, he would have to come on the field for a double-switch.
Baseball also should make a reliever face a minimum of two hitters unless he gets injured while warming up or facing the first hitter. This alone will cut down the game time, and it might generate more offense as well.
In the past, I marveled at the ability of hitters to foul off a seemingly endless number of pitches, since hitting a baseball is considered to be the most difficult thing to do in sports. No more. All stadiums have decreased their foul territory, so the teams could have more high-priced seats. Now it's not uncommon to see a hitter foul off five consecutive pitches, and the pitcher hasn't changed the kind of pitch or its location. I would like to see baseball institute a rule after five consecutive fouls on the same pitch; the hitter would be awarded a ball in the count. This would generate extra offense and shorten the games.