Rob Manfred is MLB's new Commissioner, and he gave his new world order in an interview with ESPN's Karl Ravech on Sunday.
In what could be considered baseball's state of the union address, Manfred offers hot takes on a gaggle of issues, such as his relationship with Alex Rodriguez, PED testing, pace of play and the future of the game.
On pace of play (emphasis mine):
Our society is a very fast paced society; attention spans are shorter. And I think it's really important to us, at least symbolically, to say to fans: we understand that you want this to move as quickly as possible, and we're going to continue to modernize the game without harming its traditions in a way that makes it more enjoyable and more in tune with the society we live in.
I'll give you a great example: You know in the Arizona Fall League we used clocks, pitch clocks, inning clocks -- you know we had some very traditional people involved in that process. When they saw the clock out there, and saw the impact it had on the way the game played, they're amazingly positive about that potential change.
The concern for pace of play in baseball has gained traction, for whatever reason, over the last couple seasons. It's a complaint voiced more in the media than from the fans, as attendance is higher now than it's ever been even in spite of the hitting crises MLB has on its hands. Pitch clocks, despite their best intentions, will be an absolute bitch to enforce and it's honestly hard for me to envision a high-leverage situation, let's say in the postseason, where the bases are loaded in a tie game and a pitcher gets ball four called on him for a delay of game.
You know what I'm saying?
Later on, Rob Manfred and Karl Ravech had a back-and-forth about the idea of outlawing defenses from shifting, something Manfred believes would help generate more offense:
RM: Eliminating shifts, I would be open to those sorts of ideas.
KR: The forward thinking, sabermetric defensive shifts?
RM: That's what I'm talking about, yes.
KR: Let's eliminate that?
KR: So all the work that the Cubs and/or Angels or whoever has done, you're willing to say, 'I appreciate that, good idea, but it's killing the game' in a sense?
By this point it should be pretty clear: Manfred wasted his platform. He doesn't have a friggin' clue.
As Craig Calcaterra writes: "What’s really hobbling offense — and making the game one of increasing inactivity — are the massive increases in strikeouts. I don’t have any game film or spreadsheets ready at the moment, but last I checked a shift doesn’t affect strikeout rates."
It reminds me of something Joe Sheehan wrote the other day in his newsletter, describing MLB as "viciously darwinian". The game with literally no known place of origin, only myths. It's okay to be a forward thinker and look for news ways to improve the game (which is how the game got to where it's at), but it's also okay to admit that banning defensive shifts is anti-intellectual, penalizing the research and hard work of countless individuals over the last two decades. In his first major interview as Commissioner, Rob Manfred would like you to know that he is in favor of stunting the progress Major League Baseball has made over time between the lines.
He wants you to know that, after being voted in to be Bud Selig's successor on August 14th, the Great Baseball Problem he's deduced in five months is: Offense is broken, and the way to fix it is to eliminate the shift, without even acknowledging the real source. Strikeouts. While shifts affect, what -- two-three hits per game? -- they can't turn an extra-base hit into an out; home runs are still home runs. And strikeouts will continue to be strikeouts.
There are easier ways to improve offense in baseball without harming the actual gameplay on the field (like pitch clocks and limited defensive shifts). Shorthand, Brandon wrote briefly yesterday about the strike zone, saying it's "increased by almost 10% since 2008." Thanks to better pitch-tracking from places like Brooks Baseball, it's been easier to see the biases home plate umpires carry -- like the wide outside corner to lefties -- behind the plate. Robot umps would be ideal, but since it took until 2014 for expanded instant replay to be utilized, I'm not holding my breath as far as that is concerned.
Another decent idea (which isn't mine) to increase offense is to implement a minimum number of hitters a pitcher has to face; barring injury, of course, if MLB made a rule saying each reliever had to face at least 3 hitters, or 5, or what have you, it would do away with platoon relief pitchers and reward those who can get out both lefties and righties at the plate.
These don't save pace of play, but it's reasonable to assume a tightened strike zone and fewer pitching changes -- eliminating pitchers from maxing out on 5 or 10 pitches a night -- would increase offense, giving franchises something to negotiate around in free agency and the trade market.
It's obvious baseball has a problem on its hands. More runs need to be scored. I understand this, you understand this, so does Rob Manfred, but if his first interview as Commissioner told us anything, it's that he has no idea how to fix it.