The slow pace of play is a problem in MLB, and it makes the game boring. At least that’s what most of the media will have you believe. I think that is a cop-out and a general response given by someone who doesn’t have an answer to the question of why is baseball losing fans and ho the league can make the game more exciting to the casual fan. The answer to that question is fairly obvious to me, but I have not heard anyone mention it as a response.
It is no coincidence that watching baseball has started to become “boring” to the casual fan around the same time that the league is coming out of the steroid era. Never during the summer of the home run race between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa did you hear anyone say baseball was boring to watch. Attendance in stadiums all around the league was at an all-time high and television ratings were through the roof as fans watched and cheered for juiced-up players who were crushing the ball out of every park with very little effort. Now that baseball is finally taking a stand against performance-enhancing drugs, the league has to figure out a way to get the offense back into the game.
If you take a look at the way the game is played today, it is hard to ignore the fact that pitching and defense have become the staples of the league. At this point in the season with a minimum of 100 innings pitched, there are 26 starting pitchers league-wide with an ERA below three. In the prior five seasons, there have not been more than 18 starting pitchers to finish the season with an ERA below three and a minimum of 140 innings pitched, with the average being around 15. With a little over a month and half left in the season, it is conceivable that we will see an absurd amount of starting pitchers finishing with a sub-three ERA.
Helping with the low pitching numbers, defense from the other eight players on the field has become more important than ever. Proof that this is evident is the new current trend that is getting talked about nationwide. Defensive shifts are becoming so popular that there are coaches and players complaining about how it should be illegal because it’s not how the game is normally played. Once you hear from people in baseball say something should stop because it wasn’t how the game was played in the past, you know it is has taken a real effect on the game and is here to stay.
Since reintroducing performance-enhancing drugs isn’t a possibility at all, baseball needs to find a way to give hitters a better chance to put up stronger numbers that are more exciting to the casual fans. More offense is always better for television ratings and gaining new fans. Just look at the way the NFL has taken away almost all abilities for there to be defense played in their games in a successful attempt to become an offensive-driven league. Unlike the NFL, however, baseball doesn’t have to sacrifice what the purist of the sport love about the game.
Shrinking the strike-zone is a small tweak that can have a major effect on both sides of the game. If you shrink the strike zone, pitchers will have to throw the ball over the plate into a better zone for the hitters to make contact. The pitcher still has every chance to strike out the batter, either with challenging the hitter with his best stuff or getting him to chase a pitch out of the zone. If the strike zone is smaller, it will make defense even more important because of the better chance for a ball to be put in play.
The hitters benefit from a smaller zone because they do not have to protect as much of the plate. More balls will be put in play, which increases the possibilities for a hit, and more walks will be issued because of the smaller zone a pitcher has to hit with his pitch for it to be a strike. If you increase the possibility for a player to get on base by a hit or walk, more runs are going to be scored. The more runs that score, the more casual fans you will get showing up to the games and watching on television.