The Commissioner speaks, we listen … and nit-pick, analyze, discuss, and share.
Let’s do all of the above, as MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke to the Daily News on the future of baseball, the Collective Bargaining agreement and much more. Read that article for the full breadth of his comments. The highlights and my thoughts follow:
- As we know, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement changed a great many things, but left a ton of the rumored, on-field changes completely out of the final draft. For example, heading into 2017, there is no pitch clock, no DH in the National League, no 26th man, no free hot dogs for fans named Michael, no nothing. But I suspect it was the lack of changes to the pace of the play that was most surprising. After all, pace-of-play has arguably been among Commissioner Manfred’s most championed issues.
- To that end, however, Manfred has not let off the gas. When asked about pitch clocks and the ever-increasing number of relievers used, Manfred responded pretty emphatically to the Daily News: “Look, people always posit these questions as: do you want to change the game? The fact of the matter is the game is changing on its own. You didn’t used to see this type of activity (managers using multiple relievers to match up against hitters),” adding that the issue is not change vs. no change, but rather change that’s organic or change that’s managed. According to Manfred, MLB needs to manage the way the game is changed more aggressively than they have in the past. And for the sake of the sport – not just now or five years from now, but 10, 20 and 30 years down the road – I believe he is entirely correct.
- Interestingly, there appears to be a provision in the CBA which allows playing-rule changes to be made at any time. Referencing that provision, Manfred adds that pace-of-play will be something they (the league) address with the full support of the players over the next couple of years.
- More specifically, he seems to favor the 20-second pitch clock (which was enforced in the minor leagues last season with success) over limiting the use of relievers. According to Manfred, the minor league pitch clock not only quantitatively and definitively shortened games, it also was non-intrusive to players and strategy. Limiting the number of relievers, however, is a change that more directly affects competition and thus, is the kind of change that would have to come more slowly. Even if I don’t entirely agree, I think I understand.
- On the lack of roster changes in September (when rosters expand to the full 40-man), Manfred was somewhat disappointed: “It literally is a different game at the most important part of the season, and it also affects pace of play … I do think limiting the number of players available in September to 28 would have been an improvement for us.” Not much to add there, as I agree completely [Brett: to the extent you both mean 28 designated players on a given day, but the full 40-man is eligible to be “called up”, I also agree]. Limiting the number of players in September would help keep September more competitive and help with pace of play (increased roster means more available relievers, means more pitching changes).
- Of course, he recognizes that allowing the 26th man for the rest of the season, too, could exacerbate the pace-of-play problem … but to that I say that’s where reliever limitations could come in. Manfred suggests this was a bigger issue for the Players Association than it was for the league, which is understandable given the service time considerations.
- He has a number of comments on Hall of Fame voting, as it relates to PED use, which you can read and interpret for yourself. In addition to addressing his comments about David Ortiz, he disagrees with the notion that Bud Selig’s induction should somehow inform voters on players like Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens – who played and used PEDs during his tenure.
- On whether there’s enough offense in the game, Manfred’s answer is a bit befuddling: “What’s enough offense? I do think that what’s important is to promote action in the game … when you think about it, a home run is not really prolonged action. The guy trots around the bases and you’re done, right?” Well, no. Not really. I don’t think many would say that a home run is less “action” than some other play that may take longer, because action is really a stand-in for excitement, and excitement is what needs to be increased in order engage new fans. In that way, is three straight singles more “action” than a home run? Not in my opinion. So yes, give us more homers and we’ll probably be pretty happy. [Brett: Worth noting here that 2016 saw a huge spike in homers. Which is interesting.]
- On defensive shifts, however, the league’s position is really interesting. According to Manfred, they are purposefully delaying action on shifts, in order to find out if hitters will adjust. To me that (and the rest of his comments not all shared here) suggests that 1) MLB does not like shifts and 2) plans on limiting them if nothing changes organically. I’m not sure we had so much clarity on this issue before.
- AND FINALLY, on robot umpires for balls and strikes, Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. sayssssssss … not any time soon. Sorry for dragging that out.