Here's how baseball can speed up the game
The game has changed. Anybody who watches baseball every day like I do sees it clearly. Yes, replay stands out this season, but it's been happening for years. There isn't enough action and the games are too long.
Through Saturday, 11 of the Cubs' first 16 games have gone over 3:08 while not one has gone less than 2:39. Consider that, on April 2 in Pittsburgh, the Cubs and Pirates scored seven runs over 16 innings and it took nearly six hours to play.
So, what's really going on here? If offense is down, shouldn't games move more quickly?
And yes, offense is way down. In 2000, there were 24,971 runs scored in baseball. Last year, that total was 20,255. That's 4,716 fewer runs scored over the summer!
Conversely, strikeouts are way up. The average per game was 6.45 in 2000. So far this season, it's eight per game.
At-bats are simply taking longer now. The average pitches per plate appearance the last two years are higher than any other season since 1990.
So guys are getting into deeper counts than ever, but instead of walking and boosting offense, they're striking out more and getting on base less.
Since 2000, we've shaved about 40 points off MLB's collective slugging percentage and about 30 points off on-base average because of a decline in walks and a 20-point dip in batting average.
Joe Sheehan recently ran a fascinating series on the current game, which he calls a "max-strikeout, high-power, min-single environment that would … look strange to those of even a generation ago."
Among the factors he points out is the staggering number of pitchers who throw in the mid-90s. In addition, the art of the base hit has been compromised. From 2007 to 2013, we saw a decrease of over 1,400 singles per season.
So we have this paradox of longer at-bats and decreased offense, which still doesn't completely explain why the game has slowed down at such an alarming rate.
What appears to be happening is we have more high-leverage situations, leading to strategic delays and multiple mound conferences.
Batters are also stepping out of the box more often than I can remember. How many times do you see a guy walk 15 feet out of the box to "gather his thoughts" and adjust his batting gloves between pitches?
Starting pitchers never finish the game anymore, leading to a parade of relievers, often during the middle of an inning in an effort to combat platoon advantage.
And this year, replay has occasionally added lengthy delays.
I don't blame players and managers for taking as much time as they feel they need in an effort to gain an advantage. And they don't respond to suggestions, so we need more rules.
Like the following:
• Catchers and other position players should be collectively allowed one visit to the mound per inning, not counting when a new pitcher enters the game. The same goes for a pitching coach or manager -- one visit per inning without making a pitching change.
• Batters should have to keep both feet in the batter's box during an at-bat except due to injury or to get a new bat. If they step out completely, even to talk to the third base coach because they forgot the signs, it's an automatic strike.
• The 12-second rule for pitchers between pitches with nobody on base needs to be strictly enforced. If time runs out, it's an automatic ball.
• Replay reviews have to be limited to 90 seconds. Once the war room takes over, it has that long to make a decision. No consensus? Call stands.
Baseball has lost its rhythm. We need to find it again.
• Len Kasper is the TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter@LenKasper and check out his cubs baseball blog with Jim Deshaies at wgntv.com.