T20 Baseball: Solving Baseball’s Greatest Problem – Less Time, More Action

Chris Brown thinks MLB should take a leaf out of T20 cricket’s book…

Right, Rob Manfred are you listening? Pace of play is the number 1 issue that us Brits have with the game apparently, so in advance of the games coming over here in 2019 let’s try and fix it in the same way we fixed the same problem with one of our own sports.

Back in 2001 English Cricket had a problem. Crowds were dwindling and sponsorship was reducing, largely owing to the lack of enthusiasm about the sport from the younger generation. Games were long, traditional, and boring. A standard County Championship match lasted 4 days, wickets (outs) could have gaps of hours between them, and runs would come in multiples of 1s and 2s, again with long gaps between them.

To illustrate the problem further, in 2015, the County Championship had an average attendance of 3,562. Over a 4 day game amounts to 891 people per day. Being kind and allowing the full game attendance to count for each game, those figures are about on par with the 2017 South Atlantic League, the Class A Minor League where you can find such incredibly named teams as the Kannapolis Intimidators, the Augusta Greenjackets and the Hickory Crawdads. Not great for the highest standard of domestic cricket in the UK, and arguably the best domestic cricket competition in the world.

So the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) got creative. They took the traditional game growing stagnant and added some fireworks. They shortened the game considerably, with each team batting for a maximum of 20 overs each. This meant that games now could last around 3 hours, much easier for fans to get to after a day at work, and not requiring as much continued attention as an 8 hour shift at a test match. T20 Cricket was born.

They changed the dynamics of the game as well. Bringing the boundaries closer and restricting the number of fielders allowed in certain areas incentivised batsmen to swing big and hit 4s and 6s. Teams regularly put up scores of over 180, not bad considering in the longer format teams could score that many in a day. The spectators have responded, in 2017 the average attendance for a T20 game was 6,639. The game went worldwide as well, and the Australian version (The Big Bash) had an average attendance of over 30,000 last year.

So, what would happen if we applied T20 logic to baseball? Let’s find out.

First, let’s start with the length. 9 innings is far too long. Baseball is only really interesting at the start, when we see whether the players are in any sort of form, and at the end, when we enter the territory of the walk-off win. The middle innings don’t add any value to the excitement of the game, so let’s get rid of them. T20 baseball is going to last 5 innings.

Now we encounter a small problem. A quality start from a pitcher is judged to be 6 innings. A decent starter would be able to throw a complete game of T20 baseball without trouble, and that would be boring. Fans don’t want to get used to one pitcher throwing the entire time they’re at the ballpark, they want to see the likes of Aroldis Chapman throwing at a million miles per hour, as well as the killer breaking balls of Clayton Kershaw, and the weirdness of an R.A. Dickey knuckleball.

So, in T20 baseball we’ll have 1 pitcher per inning, and a new one every inning. No more, no less. This means you when you turn up to a ballpark you get to see all the talent on the pitching staff, rather than playing the lottery when you pick a game to go and watch. While we’re on the subject of pitchers, let’s finish their rules off. If you’re only out there for 1 inning, you don’t need your catcher to come up and talk to you. So no mound visits. Easy. Keep that catcher where he is.

So far, T20 baseball looks incredibly difficult on hitters, with each team able to put its best pitchers in every game. Traditional starters are going to be able to ramp it up and attack every hitter without worrying about stamina. So let’s balance the books a little. We’re going to make it much easier to hit a home run. In T20 baseball, Yankee Stadium’s right field porch is too far away. We’re putting the outfield fence at a standardised 300ft from home plate. Whether a batter hits one to right, center, or left, they only need to make the ball go 301ft in order to do everyone’s favourite thing in baseball, hit a home run.

That’ll make things plenty more exciting, especially when every home run has to be greeted by literal fireworks, or those flamethrowers that spit fire to the sky. Everybody likes explosions, they’re cool. Now let’s make things even more interesting and throw in a tactical quirk, an offensive powerplay.

In T20 baseball, a manager can call for one powerplay per game, whereby the defensive team will lose an outfielder for an inning. Let’s make it easier for hitters against Clayton Kershaw, where they know they only have to beat the infield to get a baserunner, but then they run the risk of facing Kenley Jansen later with a full defensive complement. Or do you take what you can get against those two and go after a softer target like Rich Hill? The fans are going to be intrigued, surprised and shocked when the managers choose to take their power play.

Finally, let’s get the best hitters up to bat more often, by getting rid of the rubbish ones. Each team will have a standard 9 men in the defensive positions (including the pitcher), but we’re going to use a 5 man hitting lineup in this game. Let’s get Stanton, Judge, Sanchez, Bird and Gregorius up one after another over and over and over again, and have no times when the player at bat is considered an easy out. This creates a problem should the leadoff batter be stranded on base when they are due up to hit next, but let’s solve it easily by replacing them with a pinch runner, and bringing them straight up to bat in this situation.

We’ll get even more chances to watch the majesty of Joey Votto, marvel at the ability of Jose Altuve, and worship the ground that Mike Trout walks on. After running some serious calculations, I predict that we will see lots of runs scored in T20 baseball, showstopper defensive plays, and the stadiums will be 90% fuller, even in Tampa.

Most importantly the games will last nowhere near as long as they do at the moment, which is what we all want right?

So Mr. Manfred, congratulations on bringing baseball over to the UK. In return, let the country that invented pretty much every sport known to man revolutionise yours, and let’s get T20 baseball started.

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