A couple days ago I did a post of the things I would do if I was Stan Kasten, focused on the things he can do to better promote the team and enhance fan experience at the game. Today, I'm following that up with a post with some changes I would make if I was Bud Selig, commissioner of baseball:
1. Limit mound visits
This step would be one of several that I think are needed to speed up the game. Coaches, catchers, and even infielders visit the mound way too much. To me, the only legitimate reason why anyone should ever have to visit the mound is to check on a pitcher's health. Pep talks are totally unnecessary. Discussions of strategy should happen before the game, and then during the game the players should just compete. Smarter pitchers will be better--so be it. So I would limit every team to one mound visit total per pitcher, to be done only to check on health. If the pitcher needs a second visit, he would have to be taken out of the game. I would ban catchers and infielders from ever visiting the mound entirely. I would also bar managers from visiting the mound for pitching changes. There's no need for that--managers don't visit home plate to chat with pinch hitters. If you have some coaching to do--that's why you pay a bullpen coach. All this stuff just slows the game unnecessarily.
Some other things I would do to speed up play: stop batters from ever calling time-out, force batters to stay in the box between pitches, don't allow pitchers to wander off the mound once the at-bat starts, and set a time limit for how long the pitcher can hold the ball before delivering the next pitch.
2. Tighten and enforce rules against plate-crowding
There's a delicate balance between pitchers and hitters that has since time immemorial been enforced by the players themselves. If a hitter crowds home plate--thereby giving himself the advantage of making it easier to hit pitches on the outside corner--the pitcher can brush him back. If that doesn't do it, the pitcher can plunk him.
But in recent years, the league has put a big thumb on the scale of the hitters. Now, pitchers face quick-trigger warnings and ejections for pitching inside. Every HBP is treated as intentional. Brushing back plate-crowders isn't considered a legitimate part of pitching strategy at all anymore. And in the meantime hitters are wearing body armor a la Barry Bonds so that even getting plunked isn't such a threat anymore. This trend is a much-overlooked component of why offense is up over the last two decades of MLB.
I support the effort to protect players' health, so I wouldn't want to get rid of the protective gear, and I agree the league should have little tolerance for intentional HBPs. But there needs to be some way to reduce the hitters' plate-crowding advantage.
Here's the answer for how to force the Chase Utleys of the world--guys who literally stand in with their front elbow in the strike zone--to back off. The league needs to clarify a zone around home plate--maybe 4-6 inches, though I don't really know if that's the right distance--where the hitter may not stand. If the hitter crosses that line before the ball leaves the pitcher's hand, it'll be treated like encroachment in football or a zone violation in basketball. The penalty would be that the pitch would be called a strike, regardless of where it's thrown or if it's hit or not. That penalty--like the balk--would be rarely enforced because hitters would just learn to back off. But with this solution we could tip the hitter-pitcher balance back to even while still preventing injuries and fights.
3. Stop tinkering with the rules of the draft
MLB created the June amateur draft in 1965. Now, 43 years later, they're still tinkering with the rules in a constant effort to put more money in the owners' pockets and less in the players'. Keep in mind that the amateur draft has always been incredibly effective at depressing player salaries. The draft is a monopsony, a market where there's only one buyer, which drives prices way down; it's the opposite of a monopoly, where there's only one seller, which drives prices up.
In 1992, in an effort to bring down bonuses and get even richer, the owners unilaterally gave teams who drafted a player five years instead of one year of exclusive negotiating rights. The idea was to take away the players' "I'll just go to college if you don't pay me" leverage. The Players' Association sued, and an arbitrator threw out the change.
In 2007, the league moved the signing deadline from one week before the next year's draft to August 15. This change was supposed to create more predictability and force negotiations to proceed faster (while also undercutting the players' leverage and making the owners richer of course). This year, the first crack in the dam of the August 15 deadline emerged when the league allowed the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pedro Alvarez to keep negotiating weeks after the deadline for no apparent reason except that Bud felt it should be so. (Nitpickers will say there were other reasons, but I regard them all as total B.S.)
At the same time that the league moved the signing deadline, they unilaterally created the so-called "slotting system," where every player drafted would receive a league-recommended low-ball signing bonus. It was essentially an attempt on Selig's part to collude with the other owners to screw the players, but since the slot recommendations were just that--non-binding recommendations--the collusion failed and bonus inflation has continued apace.
Here's the biggest problem with all these changes--by constantly messing with the rules of the game, the draft is in a constant state of unpredictability. The players are always trying to figure out new ways to leverage their talents for fairer bonuses. But because the league keeps playing with the rules, the market never finds equilibrium. If there was more predictability, snafus like the Alvarez situation and the Crow meltdown would be less likely. Once the market found it's level, player values would be more or less set--the same way the prices of more or less every other commodity in the U.S. economy is determined.
But because the owners still think they aren't rich enough, there's once again talk of creating a "hard slot" system, which would have to be negotiated with the players' union in the next collective bargaining agreement. But if I was Bud, I would just stop tinkering. You have a system that gives you enormous leverage over young players so that you can pay superstars like Cole Hamels like they are fringe bench guys. In no other sport are rookie salaries so depressed. Just be happy you've ripped off these young players as much as you have, and let the system be.
Here's the upside: if the draft wasn't such a vomitous annual exercise in greedy, capitalist ugliness, you might have a chance of drawing more fan interest in the draft and... get this... make more money!!
4. Allow the trading of draft picks
Here's something JimBo and I agree on, although the idea of Bowden himself being able to ship out draft picks for crappy, fading veteran outfielders would terrify me.
But setting aside the fact that this rule change would screw the Nationals by further exposing Bowden's weaknesses as a GM, I think overall that allowing teams to trade draft picks as they do in other sports would increase upward mobility of teams. It wouldn't necessarily increase parity (which shouldn't be the goal, BTW--the goal should be upward mobility, not total vanilla league-wide averageness like in the NFL), but it would allow teams that decide to commit to rebuilding to get better faster. If a team like the Nationals could ship off guys like Tim Redding and Ronnie Belliard to trade up in the draft, it would be another way to cut our losses on the now and bring in more blue-chip talent for the future. And it would be fun.
5. Make raw pitch f/x data more easily available
I know, Mike Fast, Eric Seidman and the dude from Cubs F/X have all figured out how to download this data from public sites and do all kinds of fun things with it. But I'm not a computers expert, and for the life of me I can't figure out how to do it. These stats have the potential to revolutionize how we understand pitching and hitting. MLB should just put it all out there in easily downloadable spreadsheet format that my pre-2003 Excel program can handle, and let the fans go wild.
BTW--if one of you out there is more of a computers geek than I am and has figured out how to do this and wants to start emailing me spreadsheets of data, I'd be willing to pay for at least a round of beers at the Red Porch.
6. End local MLB.tv blackouts
I don't even understand what they're thinking. In case you're not aware of how this asinine system works, if you pay for the MLB.tv subscription, you get to watch every game nationwide EXCEPT YOUR LOCAL TEAM. You can watch the Royals play the Mariners and every other game that you have no possible interest in, but not the hometown nine.
Why? At first, the deal was that you were blacked out from watching the home games, on the theory (I'm told) that the league was trying to force people to go to the ballpark by preventing them from watching on their computers (as if anyone ever actually goes to the game because they can't watch on their computers). But last season, all local team games were blacked out, regardless of whether they were at home or not. WTF?
In what business school do they teach you that it's smart business to make it nearly impossible for fans to consume your product? I guess the answer is that I'm supposed to get cable and watch on MASN. But MASN's going to get their audience anyway. The people who pay for MLB.tv are the baseball obsessed fans who 99% of the time have cable anyway. Most people get MLB.tv so they can watch from the office cubicle or while travelling. The tiny number of people who would consider subscribing to cable JUST to watch the Nationals AND who aren't sports fans enough to want ESPN anyway? Well, however many people fall into that category it can't be worth the money they are losing from reducing the exposure of local teams in their home media markets.
7. Get rid of first and third-base coaches
In the NBA, they don't allow the coach to stand under the basket signalling to the point guard where to pass the ball. In the NFL they don't allow the offensive coordinator to stand in the backfield to help point out open receivers. Why is baseball the only sport that allows coaches onto the playing field to direct the moment-by-moment action in this way? Why can't runners decide for themselves whether to go for home or when to steal? Smart runners would benefit and dumb ones would be exposed. Fun! No one goes to the game to watch the fat guy next to third base. We watch the players, and the players should decide for themselves when to run or not.
8. Allow every team to carry 13 pitchers and expand the active roster to 26
Given what we've learned about pitcher usage and injuries in recent years, the league should do this to help managers cut down on the number of innings each pitcher throws in a season. Guys like Luis Ayala, Gary Majewski, Chad Cordero, and Jon Rauch just get chewed up and spit out throwing in 85-90 games a year, year in and year out. Of course, managers will still tend to over-rely on their best arms, but this would help by at least giving teams more options for junk time.
9. Ban collisions at home plate
Baseball is not a contact sport. The only part of the game when bone-jarringly physical play is accepted is in collisions at home plate. Whether you thought Chase Utley's diving hit on Jesus Flores was cheap or "old/good school," it undeniably exposed Flores to injury. These collisions almost always leave the catcher's body exposed and defenseless. Ray Fosse's career was ended this way, and I'm sure there are many others. There's just no need for it. The hook slide is more effective anyway. The only reason to destroy the catcher is to live up to some outmoded macho code that also encouraged head-hunting, going into second with spikes high, and all kinds of other practices that have gone the way of the St. Louis Browns. Just change the rule so that if there's anything other than incidental contact the runner will be out at home, and at the same time ban catchers from intentionally blocking the plate. The play should be decided based on when the throw arrives.
10. Get rid of the DH
No explanation needed here, I assume. For me, it's less that I relish the opportunity of seeing pitchers hit, and more that I hate the fact that hitters who aren't athletic enough to play the field can start. An alternative to just getting rid of the DH would be to require that DHs appear a minimum number of innings in the field somehow. This would be kind of a mess to implement though, so I would prefer to just get rid of it (even though it seems it'll never happen).
11. Determine World Series home field advantage by won-loss record
Again, this is a no-brainer. The All-Star Game thing is just silliness.
12. Make the All-Star Game a 9-inning affair with ties
The possibility of extra innings only risks injuries and forces managers to hold back guys whom the fans want to see play. And does anyone really care who wins the All-Star Game?
So those are my ideas. I'm sure there are lots of other good ones, and there were some really good ideas in the comments on the "If I was Stan" post. So feel free to share your ideas here too.