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Playing Rockies manager: What would you do with a 7-inning game?

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Shortening baseball games would have pretty far reaching consequences. How would you manage differently?

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On Sunday, the Denver Post published Mark Kiszla’s piece “How to take the boring out of baseball? More than rule tweaks are needed. Here’s a revolutionary idea.” After the usual proposals to make the designated hitter universal, expand the strike zone, and require pitchers to face at least three batters, Kiszla lays out his truly radical idea:

My modest proposal: Make it a seven-inning game. Replace the seventh-inning stretch with end-of-game drama. Now that’s one change that would really make every pitch and every at-bat count more.

It would encourage a manager to use his pitching staff more creatively rather than calling for a middle reliever in the fifth inning out of desperation. It would keep position players fresher for the season-long grind. It would allow us all to leave the ballpark in time to enjoy a little more of our beautiful Colorado summer nights.

Chris Iannetta was clear about his feelings, tweeting, “I kindly ask whoever is in favor of a seven inning game to go watch a high school game. #cheers.”

Rockies Twitter shook its collective head — baseball fans tend to be fairly conservative when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the game, and baseball has been a nine-inning game since 1856 — but I began to wonder about the ways in which a seven-inning game would fundamentally change baseball rather than just making games shorter.

It turns out that Kiszla’s proposal isn’t new. For example, Jim Kaat, a former pitcher, made the case to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Kaat argues that the starting pitcher should throw five innings before turning the game over to a closer: “Kaat would mandate a maximum of nine or 10 pitchers on each staff, enabling teams to field much larger benches and use more pinch-hitters, more pinch-runners and more defensive replacements.”

Kaat sees a return to the four-man rotation, an impact on statistics, and an upsetting of revenues (fewer commercial breaks perhaps offset by more people attending games). Toronto Blue Jay’s general manager Ross Atkins has speculated about the possible impact (though he’s stopped short of endorsing).

Baseball Prospectus’s Russell Carleton games out the possibilities, assuming a 25-man roster and a 162-game season. To summarize, the impact on pitching is profound: Managers would pull pitchers earlier, pitchers would have fewer innings to fill, starting pitchers would pace themselves differently, and the conventions of what makes for a successful pitcher would change. Hitters would be affected, too. It would be harder to hide a marginal hitter who’s an exceptional defensive player, and taking extended bats to wear down the pitcher wouldn’t be terribly helpful because there’s a reliever waiting to come in. As Carleton speculates, the momentum changes would be radical: “[F]rom the get-go, each at-bat is a little more important than it used to be. Plus, the leverage of an individual at-bat increases in a lower-scoring environment, which we would likely see.”

I tried to visualize the Rockies’ line-up for a seven-inning season, and it required some profound rethinking that left me with more questions than answers — though I was clear about one thing: I’d want Bud Black to manage the Rockies given that pitching will see the most significant changes.

So here are some questions:

  • How would you use the current starting rotation? Or would you change it? Would you move to a permanent “bullpenning” model with a series of relievers playing a couple of innings?
  • How would you construct your bullpen? Would you look for different qualities in a reliever?
  • How would you construct your batting line-up?
  • Would this influence your thinking about a universal designated hitter?
  • What would you look for in a bench player? Would the most valued qualities change?
  • Would rosters need to be smaller to reduce personnel changes and limit options, or would keeping a 25-man roster allow managers more flexibility to respond to specific situations?
  • How would you envision the game working in terms of strategy and momentum?

I’ve got some thoughts, but I’m interested in hearing from others first.

Poll

Should MLB consider seven-inning games?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    No. I’m old school. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Baseball’s worked this way since 1865.
    (219 votes)
  • 9%
    Yes. I’ve had enough of long games, especially when the Rockies are on the West Coast. Change is good.
    (26 votes)
  • 14%
    I’m not sure, but I’m open to thinking about it.
    (43 votes)
288 votes total Vote Now