Rob Manfred Agenda: Two And Done?

by Matthew Roberts | Posted on Monday, February 2nd, 2015
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Terry Francona

Rob Manfred, newly minted commissioner of Major League Baseball, stayed mostly quiet after his election allowing Bud Selig to close the book on his storied, if not controversial, tenure. However, since the official passing of the torch, Manfred has been looking to make a name for himself right away. He has already stirred up debate with his suggestion that baseball do away with the defense shift. The message was loud and clear. Manfred is taking a page from the NFL and is looking to boost offensive production in a game that has been lacking it since it tightened up its performance enhancing drug testing.

Another rule change proposed around the same time went largely unnoticed; however I believe it stands the best chance of being implemented immediately. Manfred would like see relievers being required to face a minimum of two batters, unless the one batter they face ends the inning.

This rule change falls in line with some of the more common sense rule changes in other games to facilitate faster and more active play, such as switching the time limit from 10 seconds to 8 second to cross the halfway line with the ball in the NBA, or not stopping the game clock after a quarterback sack in the NFL. The obvious benefit of the rule is to reduce the number of pitching changes thus speeding the game.

According to Baseball Prospectus, in 2004 an average MLB game went 2 hours and 51 minutes. Last year, it was 3 hours and 8 minutes. Offense is declining while games are lasting longer. That strikes me as a recipe for disaster when trying to court casual fans to the game. After all, the common lament in America about soccer is that it lacks scoring and is thus boring. Soccer lasts about two hours, including a half time, with no commercial breaks. If America thinks that that combination is boring, it is no wonder the casual fan feels the same way about baseball in 2015.

While the change would likely not be dramatic, possibly affecting about one to two pitching changes per game, it is an easy step in the right direction. The pitching change always comes with a slow, drawn out meeting at the mound, followed by minutes of warm-up. Removing one or two of those a game is definitely better than nothing. Further, this change is certainly less controversial and more easily implemented than the pitching clock which has also been suggested recently. Where a pitching clock or enforcement of Rule 8.04 (pitcher must pitch within 12 seconds of receiving the ball) requires wholesale changes to how half the players in baseball prepare and perform, requiring a middle reliever to face two batters at the start or middle of an inning rather than just one requires no adaptation at all by the players, simply the ability for the to execute against whoever is standing in the batter’s box.

Sure, it impacts the true strength of sabermetrics, requiring a manager to let a situation play out that may not be maximized for the manager, which is among the complaints about the elimination of the defensive shift. But, this rule does not impact the specialization this game has enjoyed  over the last two decades. Two out middle relievers are not starters or closers. They are still a specialized player, like the pinch runner, or the defensive replacement. This does not alter a team’s bullpen, only its strategy in using it. Ultimately this rule would help better distinguish the good bullpens from the bad, and help further distinguish the good teams from the bad. A bullpen of pitchers who can survive pitching to both right handers and left handers will boost a team’s bottom line more than a bullpen of pitchers who can only pitch to one type of hitter. This is the type of meritocracy I love in sports.

There is a hidden gem in this proposed rule change. I think it will also have an unintended effect of boosting offense. When a team has to turn to a bullpen of specialists, unless it’s a Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman, there is always a fear the reliever just will not be good enough that night. They are in the bullpen for a reason. Leaving a pitcher out there for multiple batters, possibly against a right- or left-handed type hitter they struggle against, increases the possibility of those ever exciting bullpen meltdowns. Watching Clayton Kershaw duel to a 2-1 advantage prior to leaving in the 7th inning is always fun, maybe even for the casual fan. But, watching the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen hold the lead is far less exciting than seeing a team come back and win 3-2 in the last two innings when the bullpen blows it. A rule that has a chance to increase that possibility, however slight, will increase offense, and increase excitement.

This is ultimately what Manfred is trying to do, increase excitement. If he can shorten games while increasing excitement, however slight, it is a good first step toward courting the casual fan again. This is long needed after the tenure of Bud Selig left most casual baseball observers feeling like baseball is too slow to change with the times. This change is made even simpler by the fact that implementation of the rule requires no extra hardware in the stadium, requires no complication lessons for either umpires or teams, and simply doesn’t change the way a team prepares. This is one rule change in which the Commissioner has my full support.

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Matthew Roberts
About the Author

Matthew cut his teeth on baseball during $2 Bleacher Wednesdays at the old Arlington Stadium in the 1980's and has loved the Texas Rangers ever since. When he's not teaching his young son to throw a wicked circle change, he enjoys the six month friendly rivalry with his wife and her precious Oakland A's. Follow him on Twitter @ifithasballs.

  • Robert

    NO NO NO I disagree. Leave the frikin game alone. We are now starting to be like the NFL. This is the greatest game on earth. For you to even compare the length of the game to soccer wants me to get violent. There is a reason why baseball is great….there are no time restraints no clock. It just is. We can get a 1 hour and a half game or a 9 hour game that is the beauty of it. They have to put a time line on all the other sports because they are boring to watch. Baseball doesn’t need to compare themselves to other sports. I promise it will have an opposite effect it will drive fans away with all these rules. There are more people watching baseball more now than ever. Let the games last three hours and let the fans get their monies worth. Make the players making millions work more hours. Your saying for them to make more and work less. bull crap letting them work an extra half hour to a hour wont hurt them. If fans get tired of watching let them decide when to leave. You the commish and no one else should try and hurry the game to dictate how long a game should last. Its beautiful just the way it is…..leave the frikin game alone.

  • Kevin

    I disagree that this rule change would not change bullpens. It will change bullpens, batting orders, and a variety of in game strategies. A subtle change like this would have huge implications. For example, Teams will try to stack lineups with alternating right and left handed hitters to help nullify left-handed specialists. This will effectively reduce the value of left-handed specialists and increase the value of switch hitters. Match-up pitchers – who are really good against particular guys in a line-up – would become rare. I’m not saying I disagree with the move, but I do hate the idea of tinkering with the game to cater to the ADD crowd.

  • Franklin Hall

    Since I first offered this suggestion to Doug Gray, I have also suggested it to several others, including, who said they would forward it to the appropriate person, and get back to me. I repeat it briefly now:

    Limit each team’s pitching staffs to ten pitchers. It was that way for a long time, until the game became too specialized. You would have two to three more hitters on your bench to possibly deliver a game-winning hit instead of a specialized reserve who may not be a clutch hitter. There would be fewer pitching changes which would shorten games. Robert Castellini , owner of the Cincinnati Reds, said that that would sure save him a lot of money. There are other ramifications which would develop. I have had other positive reaction to this proposal and I think it is well-worth consideration.

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