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September 14, 2011

The Lineup Card

Commissioner for a Day

by Baseball Prospectus

1) Batters Do Not Get Time Out… Ever

Rule 6.02 in the official rulebook, a law that no player or umpire has ever read:

(a) The batter shall take his position in the batter’s box promptly when it is his time at bat.

(b) The batter shall not leave his position in the batter’s box after the pitcher comes to Set Position, or starts his windup.

PENALTY: If the pitcher pitches, the umpire shall call “Ball” or “Strike,” as the case may be.

The rulebook provides further clarification: “The batter leaves the batter’s box at the risk of having a strike delivered and called, unless he requests the umpire to call ‘Time.’ The batter is not at liberty to step in and out of the batter’s box at will. … Umpires will not call ‘Time’ at the request of the batter or any member of his team once the  pitcher has started his windup or has come to a set position even though the batter claims ‘dust in his eyes,’ ‘steamed glasses,’ ‘didn’t get the sign’ or for any other cause.”

The cat and mouse game in which the pitcher holds the ball and the batter steps out or the pitcher comes set and the batter steps out is spectacularly tedious and has no place in the modern game. Games are already plenty long without asking the fans to sit through long stretches in which no activity is happening other than the batter-pitcher hokey-pokey. Once the batter is in the box, he should be made to stay, and once the pitcher comes to a set, time should never be granted. The rulebook should be further amended to make this absolutely clear:  “Umpires will not call ‘Time’ at the request of the batter or any member of his team once the  pitcher has started his windup or has come to a set position unless the batter shows clear signs of having a cerebral hemorrhage. In all other cases, if a batter asks for time, the umpire will reply, ‘F—k off,’ and play will continue uninterrupted.” —Steven Goldman
 

2) Hire Greg Aiello, NFL PR Whiz
With just one day in office and CBAs in place to hold in check my desire to create massive realignment and more accountable umpires, I’d instead turn my attention to throwing goo-gobs (technical term) of money at Greg Aiello.

Who is Greg Aiello?  He’s Sr. VP of Public Relations for the NFL.  Whether you love or hate pro football, you have to admit that they’ve given the appearance of being “out front” on every major controversy in the last two decades.  

Steroids? You know they’re testing even though their program isn’t as tough as baseball’s. Bad seeds? Suspensions with teeth & bravado. Heck, they were days away from a devastating work stoppage, and they came out more popular than ever.

This comes while MLB, for all the good it does and as healthy as the league is overall, can’t get past disasters like Sunday’s “Cap Flap” at Citi Field.  They never seem to understand what will and won’t work in the court of public opinion.

So, I submit Greg Aiello on an A-Rod style deal.  Is he good at his job? Who cares?  The good PR from the image makeover would do wonders for the game’s image. —Mike Ferrin
 

3) Expand Instant Replay
If I were commissioner for a day, I'd expand the use of instant replay beyond the current limitation of being used only for home run fair/foul/spectator interference/live ball situations. As technology has improved, it's become abundantly clear that the game can and should do better than simply leaving everything in the hands of the four umpires on the field, who have a difficult enough job as it is. Blown calls on plays at the plate have cost the Pirates and A's ballgames, among others, and it's only a matter of time before the next Don Denkinger- or Jeffrey Maier-type situation turns a playoff series. While I would not go so far as to implement robot umpires (as I often call for on Twitter) or make every pitch reviewable from a ball/strike standpoint, safe/out and fair/foul calls would be reviewable if one team or the other protested, employing the same standard of needing clear and convincing evidence to overturn the initial ruling on the field as is used for the current boundary call instances. With a dedicated fifth umpire in the video booth to aid his compatriots, I don't believe this will add significantly more time to games—rulings on home run calls take about as much time as a pitching change, and how many controversial calls are there in a single night?—and in addition to avoiding the prospect of a wrong call deciding a game, it might actually improve the fragile relationship between umps and teams. If that's not in the best interest of baseball, what is? —Jay Jaffe
 

4) At Least One Day Game Every Day
When I was a Little League catcher, I used to wake up on game days and put my uniform on first thing. I couldn't think about anything except the day’s game until that game began, and those rare Saturdays when I was scheduled for the 4:00 game were torture. This is how I feel every Monday and most Tuesdays and Fridays when the Cubbies are on the road: no baseball until 4:05. Torture. And I'm on the West Coast. I can't imagine the endurance it would take to wait until 7:05 like poor, pitiable East Coasters must. That schedule might have worked when people worked diligently for eight hours each day, but nobody with an internet connection works diligently for eight hours each day anymore (there's a reason Baseball Prospectus publishes most of its stories and holds most of its chats during weekday business hours). Sure, this would complicate MLB's scheduling a little bit and put a little more pressure on teams’ traveling secretaries, but it would also give baseball fans nationwide the chance to watch a Pirates game together, which sure as hell isn't going to happen on Sunday Night Baseball. And it would make MLB.TV an absolutely essential purchase for every baseball fan. Look: we work hard for up to two hours each morning. We deserve a baseball game, every weekday, to distract us the rest of the time. —Sam Miller


5) Eliminate the Arcane Blackout Rules

MLB.TV has to be one of the coolest things going.  Or, it would be, if you could actually watch your hometown team. Don't get me wrong, it's awesome to be able to watch nearly any game you want. But the inability to check out your local teams really cuts into the value. I sort of understand the reason for it: the TV rights holders want you to watch their feed and see their ads. But that's not where technology and viewers are going. The trend is toward things like Netflix and Hulu; more and more people are dropping cable, and it's costing MLB and its teams money—both in the short term and likely in the long term.

Take me, for instance.  I live in upstate New York and am a Yankees fan.  We can get YES here, so Yankees games are blacked out on MLB.TV. But I don't want to spend the extra $50+ a month it would cost to get the cable package that includes YES. I'd be more than willing to pay for MLB.TV—if I could just see the team I want to watch.  Instead of getting a few hundred dollars from me, MLB and the Yankees are getting nothing.  Still, I've got it good compared to the people of Iowa who are blacked out for the Cubs, White Sox, Brewers, Twins, Cardinals, and Royals—a full 20 percent of games. And it's a shortsighted approach. The fans most likely to view streaming only are the young ones; the ones MLB should be wooing for their entertainment dollars. But alas, they've chosen a few extra dollars now versus growing the fan base for the future. —Dan Turkenkopf
 

6) Enforce the 12-Second Rule for Pitchers
There are so many things I would do differently if I was commissioner for a day, but the number one thing I would do is enforce the 12 second rule for pitchers.  The MLB rulebook states:

"When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball” The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball."

Commentators laud Mark Buehrle for his quick tempo during games, and in fact, he did have the shortest times according to this study. Unfortunately, he still averaged 16.0 seconds—four seconds longer than the allotted time according to the rule book. When factoring in the fact that this includes pitches with runners on base, Buehrle obviously works quickly and right around the time allotted. Compare this to Matt Garza at 25.7 and C.C. Sabathia at 24.2 seconds, let alone the relievers who approach 30 seconds.

At 100 pitches each for Sabathia and Garza, an additional 20 or 22 minutes (respectively) can lead to a fairly lengthy game. In reality, enforcement of the rule won't save as much time as these figures imply since many pitches are thrown with runners on base, but if only half the pitches qualify and it saves 20 minutes total, these games will feel less like sitting in the dentist's chair and more of an enjoyable experience. —Corey Dawkins

7) Make Mark Buehrle the Pitching Tempo Role Model
I would have Mark Buehrle make an instructional video on the merits of a quick tempo on the mound and make it required viewing for every pitcher in Major League Baseball. If all pitchers followed Buehrle's example, complaints about the length of games would be moot. Buehrle gets the throw from his catcher, addresses the plate, and, after waiting for the hitter to stop screwing around, goes right into his delivery. It's so simple, yet few pitchers work with such rhythm and pace.

Who controls the pace of a game? Is it the umpires with their small strike zones? The batters with their Mike Hargrove homages? The pitchers who stalk around the mound scratching themselves? Buehrle shows time and again that if a pitcher wants to move a game along, he can do it. You can always count on a Mark Buehrle start to last 130-150 minutes and rarely any longer.

And the approach works. We've all heard that old adage about how pitchers who work fast help keep the fielders behind them in the game. It's always made sense to me, though I have no idea if that notion holds up to analytical scrutiny. In Buehrle's case, his team's DER when he's on the mound has been better than the team's overall DER in nearly every season of his career. Sometimes, it's way better. The guy throws an 85-mph fastball, yet he's won 57 percent of his games over his 11-year career. Yes, he mixes pitches. Yes, he locates pitches. But Buehrle's defining trait is that he works fast, and in doing so, he makes the game better for everyone.

Incidentally, the last person who would probably want to make such an instructional video is Buerhle, who would rather be perched in a deer stand. —Bradford Doolittle
 

8) Return to a Four Division Format
Bud Selig is allegedly stepping down at the conclusion of the 2012 season. I’m sure there will be a lengthy interview process with many well-qualified candidates vying for the most powerful position in the sport. If MLB really wants to make a change, they will hire me for at least one day to return to the four division format. The AL East and West will have 7 teams each with the Indians and Tigers moving to the East and the White Sox, Twins, and Royals moving back to the West. In the NL, the Brewers, Astros, and Cardinals will move to the West and the Reds, Cubs, and Pirates will join the new NL East. These are strictly geographical moves, as the Braves being in the NL West really never made that much sense in the first place. This is not a return to the era of no wild cards but rather a variation on the two wild card era.

Obviously the schedule would have to be adjusted. For one, there would have to be fewer interleague series in order to get in all of the in-division games as well as a home and away series against each team out of division. The real change would be how this affects my hypothetical playoffs. Division winners would be guaranteed a playoff spot, and the two next-best records in each league would win a wild card spot. This means that potentially three teams in each division could make the playoffs, and a wild card team could have home field advantage in each round. This system is fairer to all teams given that non-division winners now have a 1/6 or 1/7 shot at making the playoffs as opposed to the current 1/13 or 1/15 odds. Instead of diluting the playoff field by adding a fifth playoff team in the manner that Selig is currently proposing, this playoff format ensures that the best teams make the playoffs in each league as it is less likely that a weak team will be able to sneak in as a division winner. Imagine a world where the Yankees, Tigers, Red Sox, and Rays are all simultaneously jockeying for home field advantage and a playoff spot. A future where there are more intraleague rivalry games and fewer interleague matchups like the Marlins vs. the Mariners.

Unfortunately, I don’t think anything resembling this plan will ever end up taking place, and we are much more likely to see the second wild card plan that Selig is proposing. This modification of the four division setup ensures more teams with a realistic shot at the playoffs while guaranteeing only the highest quality teams make the cut to play in October. —Sam Tydings
 

9) Eliminate Errors as an Official Stat
Batting Average.  Earned Run Average.  Gold Glove Award.  These “old school” measures of player performance have long been targets of ridicule by the sabermetric community but usually only because of the amount of import that has been bestowed upon them.  Rightly criticized, they still are crude measures of the value of baseball players and of the ability of batters to hit, pitchers to pitch, and fielders to field.  Yet all three have one thing in common—the entirely subjective ruling of a third party: the official scorer.

Yes, all those “infield singles” our favorite slap hitter got probably would have required more than “normal effort” to prevent.  So, who could fault a judge in the press box from calling them singles instead of hanging a scarlet letter “E” on the opposing infielders who decided to put the ball in their pocket instead of trying to make the play on them?  Likewise, who's to blame the same official scorer from ruling that a two-out line drive off the first baseman's glove is an error, making all subsequent runs that inning “unearned” and thus preserving the ERA of the pitcher?  Of course, not all pitchers are so lucky, as the fellow who watches an easy popup fall harmlessly between two of his infielders for a “double” can attest...

With credit (and apologies for this cursory treatment of the subject) to Craig Wright's thoughts in The Diamond Appraised—the masterful 1989 book written with pitching coach Tom House—the error is a statistic which has long outlived its usefulness.  As Commissioner-for-a-Day, I'd take the opportunity to remove all official acknowledgment of this relic from the days of tiny gloves—or no gloves. It could be comfortably retired to a dark corner of the annals of baseball history along with the nine-ball walk and the treatment of advancement bases as stolen bases.  The question isn't whether fielding aptitude is important or not.  Clearly it is, and clearly teams are as aware of that today as they ever were in the days of old.  But while the psychological impact of a fielder completely muffing an easy play may seem, to the viewer, to be worse than that of a grounder scooting past a fielder with lack of range, the truth is that both have the same impact on the game situations, though one has a much worse impact on the Gold Glove chances of said fielder. 

In short, we have better metrics now.  And they should be used.  We acknowledge that “Batting Average” is insufficient to measure offensive contributions, and as Commissioner-for-a-Day, I'd do what I could to make sure that errors (and “Fielding Percentage”) would likewise be shunned by serious fans. —Rob McQuown
 

10) Eliminate the Leagues and Realign the Divisions
To win the National League Central, a team must beat out five competitors. To win the American League West, a team must beat out just three competitors.  To win the NL wild card, a team must beat out 12 competitors. To win the AL wild card, a team must beat out just 10 competitors.

That doesn't make sense, and it's not right. Things may not always be fair in life, but they should be as fair as possible in baseball. The vast majority of major league players feel that way. In fact, the biggest non-money related stumbling block between the players and owners in their negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement is labor's wish for a level playing field with two 15-team leagues with three five-team divisions.

Commissioner Bud Selig's biggest hesitation in acquiescing to the players' wishes is that he does not want at least one interleague game on each day of the season. Well, here's a somewhat radical way to eliminate Selig's concern: eliminate the leagues. While the two leagues are a tradition that is more than a century old, Major League Baseball has taken away the identity of both by eliminating the presidents of both circuits and bringing the umpires under one umbrella.

While I am eliminating leagues, I'll also radically realign the divisions to look like this in an effort to increase geographical rivalries and perhaps cut down on travel costs:

East: Red Sox, Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Blue Jays

South: Braves, Orioles, Marlins, Rays, Nationals

Midwest: Indians, Reds, Tigers, Twins, Pirates

Heartland: Cubs, White Sox, Royals, Brewers, Cardinals

West: Diamondbacks, Rockies, Astros, Mariners, Rangers

Pacific: Angels, Dodgers, Athletics, Padres, Giants

It's not perfect, but it's as good as I can get geographically. Scheduling would also be relatively easy and balanced. Teams would play their four division rivals 12 times each (48 games total) and would get six games each against teams that finished in the same place as they did the year before in the other five divisions to ensure more competitive balance, ala the NFL. Those 25 games would involve first-place teams vs. first-place teams, second-place teams vs. second-place teams, etc. Finally, teams would play the rest of the 25 teams once, 14 in four-game series, and 11 in three-game series to account for the rest of the 89 games in the 162-game schedule.

The final piece of the puzzle is settling on the designated hitter since abolishing the leagues means either the DH is used or isn't. Since I've already euthanized the leagues and radically realigned the divisions, it's only fair that I do something to make the traditionalists happy, and that is dumping the DH. The Major League Baseball Players Association will fight the elimination of the DH—usually a high-priced position—but I'll compromise by expanding the major-league roster limit by one player to 26 and raising the minimum salary from $414,000 to $500,000.—John Perrotto
 

11) Implement Little People/Big Leagues Rule
My name is Jason Parks, and I’ve been named Major League Baseball Commissioner for the day. I’m not sure why I was granted this power; I’m not first-name friendly with any owner, I don’t own a car dealership, and all the hair on the top of my head is real and luscious. Regardless, I can guarantee the decision to grant me this power was foolish and poorly thought out. With only one day in office, I’ve decided to act fast to implement a much needed rule, a rule that will change the face of the game while moving it into the future: Little People/Big Leagues. Let me explain.

Going forward, every team will be required to have two legally recognized little people (that is, human adults who fail to eclipse the height of 4’10’’) on their 25-man roster at all times. This is only the beginning. Every team will also be required to start and play at least one legally recognized little person for seven innings a game (or four at-bats per 80 pitches) at any position of their choosing. Failure to comply with the aptly named “Warwick Davis Little Person Mandate” will result in forfeiture and fine.

According to a cursory search, one out of every 25,000 people is of the legally recognized smaller variety (i.e. little people). Baseball needs to tap into this market. I’m tired of watching games and not seeing little people. Why should they be excluded? This new rule will make the games more competitive and more enjoyable for the average person, not to mention the added benefit to the teams themselves. Are you trying to tell me that Warwick Davis wouldn’t be a better option than Adam Dunn or Alexi Rios? Size doesn’t guarantee success. Time to join the 21st century, Major League Baseball. —Jason Parks
 

12) Increase the Height of the Pitcher’s Mound
The only thing scarier to a major league hitter in 2011 than facing Justin Verlander on a 10-inch high pitcher’s mound is facing the Detroit Tigers’ “Ace” on a 20-inch high pitcher’s mound. Given the power of the Commissioner’s Office, there is no question that raising the pitcher’s mound back to its majestic height from 1968 would be my “one” dramatic action. The summer of 1968 was, without question, “The Year of the Pitcher,” led by strikeout king and future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. Using the plane created by a 20 inch mound, Gibson went 22-9 with a 1.12 earned run average and 268 strikeouts. The following season, with the mound lowered, Gibson still dominated, but he was human. The summer of 1969 saw Gibson post a 20-13 record with a 2.18 earned run average and 269 strikeouts. These were obviously still dominant numbers but not the same super-human numbers baseball saw in 1968.

The question must be asked, how much more dominant could Justin Verlander be if he was 10 inches higher when he delivers his devastating arsenal towards the plate?

Through September 13, 2011, Justin Verlander has posted a 23-5 record with a 2.36 earned run average and 238 strikeouts on a 10-inch high mound. By all estimates, he will win his first American League Cy Young Award this season at age 28; Gibson was already 32 years old when he dominated in 1968. The numbers are comparable in terms of wins and losses as well as in strikeouts. The difference in earned run average is explained by Verlander facing a DH rather than Gibson facing a pitcher every ninth plate appearance. Gibson’s stats from 1968 are frozen in time; Verlander, on the other hand, still has three-to-four starts left to go before his story is written. The question is valid and the answer unknown, but without question, I would love to see what those numbers would look like with 10 more inches of plane on his pitches. Justin Verlander will likely win the American League “Pitcher’s Triple Crown” this season, he will almost surely win the AL Cy Young, and he should win the AL MVP Award as well; coupled with his no-hitter against Toronto, 2011 is “The Year of the Verlander”. —Adam W. Tower

47 comments have been left for this article.

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