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Should baseball limit pitching changes?

Cubs President Theo Epstein has proposed that relief pitchers should be required to face more than one batter. Is this a good idea?

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred expressed support for the idea of using a pitch clock to speed up the pace of baseball, and the reaction from fans was not positive. Manfred also said that he would be open to banning defensive shifts in the interest of injecting more offense into the game. He quickly backed down from the idea after an even larger public backlash.

Now comes Theo Epstein, President of the Chicago Cubs, who suggested that baseball could require relief pitchers to face more than just one batter. One batter matchups can result in two mid-inning pitching changes, slowing the pace of the game.

Baseball games have been taking longer to finish in recent years. In 1970, the average nine inning game was completed in two hours, 34 minutes. In the first ten years of this century, the average time increased to two hours, 57 minutes. In 2014, the average regular season game took two hours, 51 minutes, while a playoff game averaged three hours and 30 minutes to complete. Meanwhile, the average number of relievers used in a game by both teams in 1974 was 2.8. In 2014, it was up to 6.0.

An inherent problem in some of the proposals being made is that the two objectives -- speeding the pace of the game and increasing offense -- aren’t necessarily compatible. The more baserunners you have, the more batters will hit and the longer the game will take. In theory, placing a limit on pitching changes could speed up the game while potentially adding some run production.

The perception, and perhaps the reality of the situation, is that baseball has been slowed to a crawl in the late innings when managers use their relief pitchers in more highly specialized roles, often facing only one batter, before making another change. A pitching change is perhaps the biggest culprit in delaying a game, taking as long as it takes for a team to take the field at the start of an inning.

Gone are the days where a complete game was the rule, and not an exceptional event. Pitch counts and pitching matchups have become an integral part of the game. Once the starting pitcher is removed, the chess match begins, and the pace of the game begins to grind.

A mid-inning pitching change involves the manager coming out to the mound, an ensuing discussion, a signal to the bullpen, a theme song for the new relief pitcher being played as he enters the game, a warm up of several minutes, and finally, a resumption of the game. Multiple mid-inning pitching changes can really drag an inning out.

Other ideas pertaining to pitching changes have been floated to address the "pace of game" issues. Limit coaching visits to the mound. Give teams a set number of time outs and charge a time out with each visit. Put an end to mound visits by coaches altogether. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs even proposed limiting the number of pitchers a team can use in a game.

I am not in favor of introduciong a pitch clock to baseball.. Nor do I like the idea of banning defensive shifts. But limiting pitching changes is an idea that merits consideration.

What do you think?