Commissioner Rob Manfred has of course made improving baseball’s pace of play at the major-league level a priority item. To that end, he has enacted a number of measures -- the latest being the “automation” of the intentional walk. Manfred wants more, of course, including a pitch clock and a raised strike zone.
Now, though, some players are beginning to push back against Manfred’s initiatives. Bob Nightengale of USA Today quotes a number of frustrated big-leaguers -- Jonathan Lucroy, Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins among them. The full article is worth reading to hear all their concerns, but Brandon Moss of the Royals put it in the strongest terms:
“I’m just very glad I will not be playing this game in 10 years. It won’t be recognizable. It’s going in a direction where it’s not the same game. Every year they keep trying to think of some stupid new rule. It’s getting old. Real old.”
If the voices in Nightengale’s story are any guide, then frustration among the ranks of players is widespread. Let it be known, though, that Manfred himself seems a bit vexed ...
The money quote: “Unfortunately, it now appears that there really won’t be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA.”
Other than the intentional walk thing, that is. In any event, we have loggerheads. Manfred wants these changes now, and the MLBPA doesn’t see the hurry. And as union head Tony Clark tells Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, time limits on replay reviews and organized penalties for pace-of-play violations might indeed come to pass soon in addition to the IBB changes. Still, Manfred wants more.
He’s right when he suggests in the video just above that MLB has problems when it comes to balls in play. Home runs, walks and strikeouts -- plays that almost always don’t involve the defense -- are eating up a higher percentage of in-game action than ever before. The chief driver is the high rate of strikeouts. Raising the strike zone should help matters, and perhaps limiting the number of relievers on the roster would also serve that end. Anything that tinkers with the strike zone, though, is going to get pushback from the players.
The bad news for the players is that under the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), Manfred will have the power to unilaterally implement some of these changes before the 2018 season. So don’t be surprised if, next winter, he rules from on high that the called strike below the knees is no more, that pitch clocks are coming to major-league ballparks, and that mound visits shall be limited.
There are a number of reasons to be concerned that the MLB-MLBPA relationship will sour before the next CBA is negotiated (a fight over MLB’s growing revenues will be the big issue), and perceived “structural overreach” by Manfred will contribute to that souring. Moss is being hyperbolic when he says he won’t recognize the game he’s now playing, but there’s no doubt that change has been heavily afoot under Manfred.
And more is likely on the way, whether the players like it or not.