Major League Baseball on Wednesday announced an agreement between the league and the MLBPA to abandon four-pitch intentional walks in favor of a signal from the dugout that would automatically award the batter first base in those situations.
Intentional walks as a whole have declined in recent years—all the way down to 932, or one every 2.6 games, in 2016—but the league and union still see it as an opportunity to speed up the pace of play.
Not everyone likes the change—traditionalists might say "Leave the game alone!"—but there are plenty of others who think it’s an inconsequential way to improve upon something that very few casual observers care about.
A couple of members of the Purple Row staff recently debated the topic
Bryan Kilpatrick : Basically, the rule is stupid because it might make a game 30 seconds shorter. If pace of play is a problem, can we change something that would actually make a difference?
Ryan Schoppe: I like it. While it won't effectively shorten the game, in the games where there is an IBB it will remove dead time where only a half percent of the time something interesting happens. While it might be only a minor improvement on the pace and a negligible one on time of game (which I'm glad to hear MLB isn't as concerned about as they are pace), it's one that really doesn't affect the game in a negative way and the aggregate of these minor things will eventually pay off.
BK: You know what will speed up IBBs while still making the pitcher work for them? Making them throw full speed. Faster pace AND potentially more exciting!
RS: ... and impossible to enforce.
RS: If the pitcher doesn't throw over 85 mph, what do you do? Add an extra ball to the count or just give the batter first immediately?
BK: Take away an out.
RS: ... and if they don't have one?
BK: Four outs to get out of the inning! Look, it's maybe once in a decade that someone actually puts an IBB in play. But balls getting by the catcher can and does happen a little more often, and I like the idea of keeping the pressure on the pitcher.
RS: The funny thing is how little of the time that ball getting past the catcher even matters. The most common walk scenario now that Barry Bonds is out of the game seems to be with a runner on second and two outs and most likely the pitcher or some other crappy hitter coming up next. So, even if the runner advances to third, they still need that next hitter to get a hit and with two outs, the runner still would have scored from second.
BK: Yeah that [balls getting past the catcher] doesn't happen often either. But one of the best things about baseball is that no matter the scenario, all the elements of the game remain in place. It's not like football where overtime takes away the importance of special teams (or that one offense may not even have a chance to win the game), or hockey with shootouts, or soccer with penalty kicks, or even basketball with free throws. As inconsequential as it may be, making IBBs automated takes away from that.
RS: You're assuming that all the elements of the game staying in place is a good thing though. Much like adding replay to the game, sometimes changes are positive.
BK: Replay is fine because it doesn't lessen the importance of any one facet of the game, and that's my whole point. It's why I hate college football overtime and shootouts in the NHL.
RS: Taking away IBB lessens the importance of what facet? The ability to play catch?
BK: Actually making a pitch in a pressure situation, even if that pitch isn't much more than a lob.
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