This week’s question is:
From both a fan and analyst’s perspective, where are you with the state of the game with about two and a half months of games in the book?
Jeff Zimmerman (Fangraphs, @jeffwzimmerman): Fine. I still don’t like the shift ban and think the pitch clock could use a tweak but no other complaints.
Brad Johnson (Patreon BaseballATeam, @BaseballATeam): As long as they don’t plan to stop here, I’m happy enough. The league took way too long to learn lessons from esports about managing the meta to keep the game fresh and interesting. They should keep pushing for more BIPs and SBs in the short term – that’s always going to be an uphill battle with everything the teams/players know. I don’t mind them getting to a point where Esteury Ruiz or Dairon Blanco types can threaten 100 SB paces. The next frontier is expanding multiple times. Don’t stop at 32 teams.
Greg Jewett (The Athletic, @gjewett9): As a teacher, I look forward towards a summer of improving mental health, and perhaps Rob Manfred could do the same. As an analyst, the pitch clock shortening games has let me get more sleep, and eliminated four hour contests. From a fan’s standpoint, I love baseball and wish it did more marketing highlighting its talented players. More games should be accessible, so fewer blackouts. It’s tough growing a game when less people can see it. Also, more focus on making baseball affordable, not catering towards ownership would be appreciated. I love the game, and working as a analyst, plus pending expansion brings more potential fans, and players into the landscape.
Scott Engel (The Game Day, @ScottETheKing): I am good with it overall. The rules changes have not been negative to me at all. The Rays and Pirates have made for some fun storylines. Things seem pretty much the same.
Michael Govier (FTN Fantasy, @mjgovier): I love it! I welcome change! I really thought for a moment there in mid-May that batting average-centric players who can spray to all fields were going to be fashionable again. A month later, I am not so sure of that. But I have been jonesing for steals to be a bigger focus in the game for years so that angle alone has me stoked for the game on the field. More action was required so the powers that be made tangible changes to reclaim the game from the Moneyball nerds that now populate nearly every front office in MLB. I can’t fathom why anybody would be bummed about the pace of play changes this year. My best guess about who those complainers would be are likely miserable married people who were hoping for more time away from their significant others at the ballpark. Either way, I love where the game is going on the field. Off the field however…oh mama. The Oakland fiasco is a total joke, but it’s 2023 so this is hardly a fresh tactic by cheap owners who care only about their bottom line. It’s a rerun we’ve seen several times before over the past 30 years or so. Player contracts are becoming more in favor of the teams than ever before. I can’t blame youngsters like Ronald Acuna Jr. or Corbin Carroll for securing a life-changing payday. Those two are the exceptions to be sure even though their deals will look like a bargain in 3 years. I am looking at those deals from an overall perspective of all the players as another CBA battle isn’t far off. The elites will always get theirs, but with the bankruptcy of the Diamond Sports (Sinclair) regional networks which ubiquitously cover MLB games regionally, the chance to make MLB a national sport again is now possible. Stream the game into millions of homes on Netflix for example. The problem there is the CBA will be about sharing the pie for the next media rights avenue. Will it be a centralized system controlled by MLB through the already rock-solid MLB TV in partnership with MLBPA? Or will there will be more deals like the one the Phoenix Suns just brokered in April before it was blocked by a judge in bankruptcy court because Diamond still had a contract with them? Even if that deal is dead, it’s clear teams want to create a pathway for as many people as possible to watch the games for free or next to nothing before the games get put behind a paywall at a higher price. However games are broadcast, there will be an attempt by the owners to say they have had revenue losses because of the bankruptcy. Despite all these off-field issues, there seems to be an increase in the buzz about baseball this year. That makes me happy because I love baseball! The MLB Draft is becoming more popular each year plus I’m seeing the college game’s increase in popularity as a supporting benefit to the minor leagues and MLB as the ability to watch NCAA baseball has gotten easier. I just hope minor league baseball doesn’t become any smaller over the next couple of years. Prospect hype and dynasty fantasy baseball participation have made those minor league towns even more popular. MLB has eternal problems that will always be squabbled over, but I am feeling optimistic about the on-field product. The future of this beautiful game of skill feels like it’s trending upwards!
Phil Hertz (Baseball HQ, @prhz50): I’m surprised that the on-field rule changes haven’t bothered me. Like Greg, I too would like to see less blackouts on TV. it never ceases to amaze me which markets are blacked out for particular teams. My biggest gripe is turning out to be the A’s. I’ve seen many games in Oakland, but I’m not now, nor have I ever been, an A’s fan. That said, the pending move to Las Vegas is an absolute disgrace. I have to wonder if Fisher has to please some people in the casino industry.
Jason Collette (Rotowire, @jasoncollette): If we could use memes in our responses, I would use the one of Pam from the office being shown 2 pictures and saying they’re the same. The current game is still a ton of strikeouts and the unintended consequences of banning extremity shifting eliminated the sure fire hits on oppo miss hits or intentional slaps the other way thus negating the gains in batting average to the pull side. The run environment is up proportionally to the run expectancy of more runners in scoring position due to steals, but that’s really it. I do enjoy shorter games more than I expected I would as it’s allowed me to consume more west coast action.
Dave Adler (BaseballHQ, @daveadler01): loving the pitch clock; its gotten the game to a respectable pace. Much more enjoyable than having batters step out, adjust batting gloves, pitcher steps off, walks around mound, etc. Having more stolen bases has left to a bit more action, as well. Limited shifts, well, as expected, not making a ton of difference. Guys who can’t hit to all fields are still going to be limited.
Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): As a fan I love all the stolen bases. And I’m glad they limited position players pitching to true blowouts (though I wish they could limit this even more). Everything else I can take or leave. The length of games never bothered me but I’ll admit a three hour 10-8 game is better than a game like that that lasts 3 and a half hours or longer. The clock makes games on TV better but takes away something for me from games in person. I like the social aspect of going to a game and talking to friends but now I feel like I miss too much if I spend even a few seconds talking to someone and not glued to what’s going on on the field. As an analyst, the changes every year make it more difficult to discern trends, perform analysis year over year, etc. I mostly relish this challenge but it makes it more difficult to me to provide useful/actionable advice for my readers/listeners.
Tim McLeod (PattonandCo, @RunTMcP361): Like Phil, I’m generally happy with a lot of the changes implemented this year, although some could use some tweaking… If you’re a starter for the Yankees, they hand you a bar of soap and tell you to scrub up. If you’re a Mets starter you spend ten days writing “I Love Robbie Manfred” on a blackboard… As an analyst, I embrace the idea of going to a central scouting and analytics department that serves all 30 teams. Why should individual teams be investing in employees that will provide opportunities for their team to improve the on-field product? Blasphemy, I say!… Some umpires still haven’t come to the realization that they aren’t the reason that fans attend games, but until the Executive Director of PR addresses that issue, (I refuse to call Rob Manfred the Commissioner of Baseball because he clearly isn’t), and he won’t, it is what it is. I can hardly wait for the automated strike zone but have my doubts that C.B. Bucknor and Angel Hernandez will get it right… Seeing more and more younger players getting the call is exciting, but when you’re calling up pitchers from Low-A to fill in for injured starters there might be a problem?… Stolen bases are exciting and the change to the bases combined with limiting the pickoff attempts has worked. At the same time, those three-foot oven mitts that some players are wearing really has to be addressed. An old fat guy, like yours truly, might be able to steal second against Noah Syndergaard…. The Oakland fiasco is just that. Let’s build a stadium in the desert where we can comfortably sit in the summer heat watching mediocre baseball. Hell, that would pry my sorry ass away from the slots. Nothing was learned from the fine deal that Jeffrey Loria struck with the taxpayers of Miami Dade, including the fact that it works for everyone but who it should work for. John Fisher has been living off freebees for years, does anyone really believe he’ll have a change of heart and spend money on payroll with this move? More billionaires living off handouts is exactly what this business needs.
Tim McLeod (PattonandCo, @RunTMcP361): Can I change my mind? Apparently, I’m not as happy as I originally thought I was.
Jeff Boggis (Fantasy Football Empire, @JeffBoggis): I’m all about continuous process improvement, but sometimes it comes at the cost of the fans and the players. The pitch clock has decreased the overall times of the game, but I think the umpires are going overboard with some of their calls. It is only a matter of time before umpires are replaced with computer strike zones and I am all for this. Artificial Intelligence can’t throw out a player or manager for arguing balls and strikes.
Eric Cross (FTNFantasy, @EricCross04): Overall, I’m happy with a lot of the changes MLB has made this season. The improved pace of play can only help bring new fans (especially younger fans) into the game and the overall game play is more exciting as well. All the extra steals are definitely welcomed and bring back memories of when I first got into the game decades ago. The two areas I would love to see improved though are the blackouts (they’re dumb) and marketing of the game. We have so many exciting young players in the game from all parts of the planet, but MLB hasn’t done a great job marketing these young players.
Patrick Davitt (BaseballHQ, @patrickdavitt): Hard to argue with shorter games, although I worry that the cost is going to be losing more pitchers to injury at younger ages. I like the SBs, but a lot of teams seem determined not to even try taking advantage. The story of the A’s is terrible, and reinforces the impression that “Commissioner” Manfred is merely the frontman for increasingly greedy and heartless owners.
Todd Zola (Mastersball, @toddzola): As a fan, I don’t mind the shorter games since it avails less time for some of the intolerable broadcasters, but then there isn’t enough time for the enjoyable crews. To be honest, I’m not the target audience since I had no issues with the previous length of game and I was OK with teams being rewarded for advanced scouting and knowing where to optimally position players whose job it is to generate outs with their gloves. That said, I’m fine with the game as is currently played. I guess I am just bugged by the artificial nature of it, but the players brought it upon themselves, and the umpires could clearly not police the pace. As such, the objective manner (strict adherence to the timers) was enacted. Even within the Touts, there has been some comments pertaining to how stringent the umpires stick to the rules — but they MUST. There is no gray area. If a violation ends a game so be it. It has to be called. My main complaint is more about some of the talking heads, media members and former Breaking Bad actors are taking a victory lap, already proclaiming how successful all the changes have been. Not so fast. We have no idea what will transpire when innings mount and the temperature rises. There has been some talk about how instrumental Theo Epstein was to the process. He’s a smart guy, so hopefully he’ll be willing to make some suggestions — if warranted — once we see the season play out until the end. My suggestion is adding three seconds to all of the countdowns. Call it 300 pitches per game, this is a maximum of 15 minutes (not all of the pitches will take three seconds longer). I don’t think adding 15 minutes takes away from the perceived improvements, but it could help guys like Alek Manoah and maybe Sandy Alcantara – not to mention probably prevent yet-to-occur injuries. Plus, with three extra seconds, Broadcasts could return from ad breaks without missing so many first pitches of the half-inning.
Paul Sporer (Fangraphs, @Sporer): As someone who watches a ton of games, the quicker pace has definitely made life easier in that respect because even as a diehard I realize a 4-hr pace for a 4-3 gm is insane. I like the added SBs, too. They still haven’t done anything to carve into the leaguewide K%, though, and until that is seriously addressed, it’s still a 3 true outcomes-based game
Doug Dennis (BaseballHQ, @dougdennis41): I don’t care about rules that shorten the game and I do think it makes the games more accessible to casual fans, so that’s a good thing. I think the blackout rules and weird Peacock stuff and all these little ways that MLB squeezes out more money (I get it, but–) sorry–those things suck for fans. Stolen bases are fun of course. I’m ready for robo-umps. Tired of weird PAs where the ump just loses focus. I could never do that job because I always lose focus, but the tech is there–let’s use it (and get rid of framing once and for all). I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here.
Brian Entrekin (Fantasy Pros, BaseballHQ, @bdentrek): I am just fine with the state of the game. It was tough to accept when first introduced but it has been overall ok. The pitch clock has been great to increase the time of a game, which I really didn’t think I’d like. Steals are up, offense is up, fun for the game. It does stink for pitching from a fantasy perspective and may be leading to injuries, definitely something to be reevaluated down the road. For now though, I am liking the current changes in baseball.
Michael A. Stein (Fantasy Judgment, @FantasyJudgment): I think the rules making the game faster have been effective although they will take some time to get used to. Just like every other change that has been made over the years, there is an initial backlash and resentment until we accept them as the new normal. As a Mets fan, this has been a dumpster fire of a season as many of their games are unwatchable. The spending spree that Steve Cohen went on has proven that money is not always equated with success. The contrast between the Mets expensive failure and what the Tampa Bay Rays have done on a miniscule payroll is fascinating to watch unfold. From a fantasy baseball perspective, it always seems like what we expect to happen rarely does happen across the board. I don’t think rule changes are all to blame for that. The way baseball is played now has affected players’ statistics, which in turn affects how we evaluate them. But every year there are dark horses out there that salvage seasons much like how underdogs such as Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Miami have established themselves as good teams. Despite my Mets fandom, baseball is still fun to watch and play from a fantasy perspective no matter what the rules are.
Anthony Aniano (Rotoballer, @AAnianoFantasy): I am all in favor of the rules making games faster, putting more balls in play and the increase in stolen bases. It has compacted the action into a shorter period of time so that is a win. On the negative side of things, umpiring seems to be worse than ever and the “stickiness” rule in regards seems to be objective and this too inconsistent to be taken seriously
Tristan H. Cockcroft (ESPN, @SultanofStat): I’m happier with the effects of the rule changes on the game than I expected I’d be, though I’ll probably never get past the runner-on-second-in-extras rule, which is one of the worst changes to the game in recent memory. One thing that does concern me about where we’re at, though, is that the shifting of real-game roster construction — even with 13/13 hitter/pitcher splits most commonly, we’re still seeing fewer active hitters than we did 10-20 years ago as well as too many teams with three active catchers — is making “only” league play increasingly difficult, where free-agent lists are regularly populated with can’t-hit defensive catchers and middle relievers. I think it’s come time to have the conversation about whether AL- and NL-only leagues should shrink back to 10 teams, and/or whether they need a roster overhaul.
Zach Steinhorn (Steinhorn’s Universe on Substack, @zachsteinhorn): I’ve never liked the extra-inning ghost runner rule and like it even less now that this season’s new pace of play rules have achieved their purpose of significantly shortening games. I don’t think you need both the pitch clock and the ghost runner, and I’d much rather have the pitch clock. The vast majority of people I talk to are anti-ghost runner, so I don’t believe the league’s narrative that most players and fans love it. If a rule isn’t good enough to use in the postseason, why are we using it in the regular season? Other than the ghost runner, I’m fully on board with the changes. Endless pickoff attempts were especially annoying.
Nick Pollack (Pitcher List, @PitcherList): The anti-shift and larger bases is working incredibly well. The pitch clock has been fantastic…until the 8th inning. We need to keep the tension of the latter frames and we absolutely want to get ahead of a game ending on a pitch clock violation. I wouldn’t be shocked if there’s a change for the playoffs.
Joe Sheehan (Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, @joe_sheehan): It’s the same game, sped up, with shackles on the defense to prevent them from defending steals and balls in play. I am glad to see that after an initial scare, that the pitch clock may not be increasing injury rates.
Grey Albright (RazzBall, @razzball): When I first heard about the pitch clock, I was worried it would dismantle the game I love, but I’ve come to appreciate it. It’s like the TV show, 24, every at-bat. It’s no surprise Jake Bauers has been a revelation. The end of the shift is still very stupid and baserunners on in extras seems like a participation trophy that has sprouted two legs and been asked to stand on 2nd.
Chris Clegg (Pitcher List, @RotoClegg): The pitch clock has been awesome. As someone who goes to a ton of MILB games, I have enjoyed the pace of play and it has translated well to MLB. I attended a MILB game last week that lasted one hour and 57 minutes. It was wild. The shift-ban plus larger bases are also making the game more fun and balanced.
Ryan Hallam (Fighting Chance Fantasy, @FightingChance): While I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a purist, I was skeptical on some of the rule changes coming into the year. However, outside of the runner in the 10th inning (which I can’t see myself ever coming around on), I would say they are a smash hit. I love the fact that (for fantasy and for MLB) the stolen base is back in the game and even the limiting the number of throws trying to pick off a runner is great because really after 5-6 it got tiresome even if it didn’t happen often. I’m sure there are still some fine tuning to do, but overall I would say that the new rule changes have been a success
Brent Hershey (Baseball HQ, @BrentHQ): My biggest beef is that with the anti-shift rule, they’ve taken data-driven decisions on defensive positioning—and thus, creativity since there are 30 different sets of decision makers—out of the game. Sure, everyone plays by these same rules and now fielders have to be positioned within certain parameters, but I’m of the belief that the pre-ban interpretive variation was a feature, not a bug. But so be it—at least now we get increased athleticism . I do like the quicker pace and increased action on the basepaths, but on the shift … I definitely now I feel like the old guy (“Back in my day ….).
Eric Samulski (Rotoballer, @SamskiNYC): I will likely always love baseball, so I’m biased in that sense; however, I’m more optimistic about the state of the game than I was 5 years ago. The shorter/quicker games have been good but I think there is wiggle room for late inning changes or maybe minor modifications to help with injuries. I love the stolen base dimension coming back and the rule changes that have incentivized these young players getting called up. On the other hand, I simply don’t trust Manfred. The changing of the baseball has been sneaky and more nefarious than it needs to be and him publicly shaming the Oakland fans was just a dick move. He also has done very little to market the young starts better to a younger audience. I don’t think baseball can truly take off with him running it
Brian Walton (CreativeSports2, @B_Walton): Selig used to brag about parity. One can argue about how MLB got there but as of 6/20, no division lead is greater than five games and only four teams are more than 12 games out of first. The other 26 squads are all within 9 1/2 games of a Wild Card. With more teams in the hunt, the overall interest in the game is higher, which is good for all. However, it will complicate deadline trading unless/until there is a shakeup in the standings. More so than ever, this may be a year to keep spending FAAB rather than wait for July 31 blockbusters.
Vlad Sedler (FTN Fantasy, @rotogut): Didn’t think I would be a fan of the pitch clock but now I look at clips from old games and recall how impatient I’d get sometimes. Very much enjoy the faster flow.
Erik Halterman (Rotowire, @erik_halterman): The additional action on the basepaths is a positive, but I remain neutral about the clock. The thing I do when one baseball game ends is turn on another baseball game, so I don’t get much out of individual games being shorter, but if it makes others more likely to follow baseball, that’s a win in my book. However, it sure seems as though forcing pitchers to speed up is leading to more injuries. If the data wonks prove this to be true after the season, it would be hard to support bringing the clock back in 2024. I had hoped that the clock would force an adjustment by pitchers and halt the trend of ever-increasing velocities as guys realized they couldn’t pitch the same way and remain healthy, but if the result is that pitchers are just going to pitch the same as ever and accept an increased rate of injury, that’s a considerably worse fan experience.
Mike Sheets (ESPN, @MikeASheets): Overall, I’m good with the changes. I appreciate the uptick in pace – not only on a pitch-by-pitch basis, but with the shorter games overall. We’re not missing any action; we’re getting the same action at a slightly quicker speed, and to me that’s more entertaining.
Clay Link (Rotowire, @claywlink): I think the changes are great for the fan experience and the long-term viability of baseball as entertainment. It feels like the game of baseball is hot right now — while that’s mostly subjective, Major League Baseball noted that more than 600,000 fans attended Father’s Day games across the country, the most tickets sold for any Sunday since 2008. The pitch clock may be having an adverse effect on pitcher health, though it’s too early to make any definitive calls in that regard. Personally, I think the games are a bit too short now and the players would benefit from a few additional seconds in between pitches, so there may be a better sweet spot for the pitch clock.