Forty years ago in 1976 the average length of a baseball game was two hours and 29 minutes. By 2016 that number has swelled up to three hours and four minutes. This has been due to a number of reasons including television timeouts, increased bullpen usage, and the millions of dollars players have at stake during every at bat. This week Major League Baseball officially proposed two rule changes to the players association, whose approval is required. If they agree then the strike zone will be raised and pitchers will no longer have to throw four pitches for an intentional walk.
When discussing these possible rule changes it's important to remember MLB's intent, which is not primarily to reduce the average length of a baseball game. Yes, if we could shave 5-10 minutes off games I'm sure everyone would be all for that. But the way the game is going it will be impossible to drastically reduce game time. Instead, the goal of MLB is to increase the pace of play or "pace of action".
For any baseball fan, casual or diehard, the worst part of watching a game is the dead time. These are the moments in a game where nothing is happening and it feels as if time is crawling. An example is whenever a batter strikes out or walks, which have both increased in likelihood thanks to advanced analytics. We now know that strikeouts aren't that bad and that walks are incredibly valuable.
So when players are walking and striking out the ball isn't being put in play, which makes the game seem less exciting. One way to combat this is to raise the bottom of the strike zone from "the hollow beneath the kneecap" to the top of the knee, about a two inch difference. While this would theoretically encourage hitters to make more contact it may only take a few minutes off the average length of games. However, it will FEEL as if the game is moving faster, which is MLB's goal.
Ultimately raising the bottom of the strike zone won't have a massive effect on the game the way some other ideas would, but it's a change that's necessary. Having teams signal for an intentional walk instead of lobbing four pitches would have even less of an impact, but still should happen. Intentional walks are down and in 2016 one was thrown just once every 2.6 games. Still it's great to see MLB making legitimate attempts at increasing the pace of play. It now falls on the players to decide whether or not to accept these proposed rule changes. Let's hope they do because if things don't improve within the next few years we could realistically be looking at the vaunted pitch clock, which would be the single worst thing to happen to baseball since the 1919 Black Sox scandal.