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Will eliminating one out per inning save baseball?

Spoiler alert: No.

Seattle Mariners v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Wall Street Journal posted an article today entitled “A Radical Pitch to Save Baseball.”

To save you a click, the main takeaway is that in order to move the game along more quickly and try to avoid blowouts, they propose a change to the game that would remove one out per inning from a team when they take the lead. So when the score is tied, the game is played as normal. However, when one team takes the lead, they only get two outs per inning, instead of three.

Meaning that if there were two outs while the game was still tied (including 0-0) and then the batting team scored the go-ahead run, the inning would then be over. They describe this as a “Catch-Up” rule and they claim to have run the numbers for 100,000 games and it reportedly makes the games a “whopping” 24 minutes shorter on average.

I mean, if you cut one of my ankles off I’d probably be shorter too, but dear god, why would you do that? It’s a bastardization of a game that doesn’t need changes made at such a fundamental level.

Their approach to what was wrong with the game of baseball wasn’t necessarily about pace-of-play, though. They claim it was more about competitive balance.

Despite complaining about teams that lose a lot of games, however, this is not actually meant to solve the seemingly intentional lack of competitive balance in baseball as a whole. A change in format would be unlikely to fix this, considering the fact that the worst teams are trying to be bad on purpose these days. So even if this change were to give those teams a better shot at winning a handful of games, they likely wouldn't want that!

Their intent was more to eliminate blowouts. However, there is no data provided to say what percentage of rallies come on two outs as opposed to one out/no outs. So this would eliminate two-out rallies, sure, but that isn’t guaranteed to make the games more competitive.

What’s next, a Monopoly style catch-up scenario where the losing team collects two runs per time through the order to try to get back in the game? Letting them continue to bat sans outs until they get within one run?

And what about this interesting conundrum:

But what irks the most about this article, and the quotes from those it is about, is how they keep saying things like:

Brams knows he’s got an uphill battle to convince baseball’s gatekeepers. The aging pastime tends to be a stubborn enterprise.

Listen, Professor Baseball-Hater, you don’t get to complain about “baseball’s gatekeepers” or “the old guard.” That’s reserved for those who actually love baseball how it is on a fundamental level. People who want to see improvements such as players getting to enjoy the game without having a baseball thrown at their head in retaliation for “playing the game the wrong way.” Those who are tired of seeing players get injured in ways that are fairly easy to prevent.

You know, things that might actually make the game more fun to watch and more appealing to a younger generation.

Not changes to the fundamental structure of the game in order to try to avoid blowouts and shave off a “Seinfeld” episode’s worth of time, as the article describes those saved 24 minutes.

Could the Catch-Up Rule be interpreted as un-American? Are people going to be OK with penalizing a team for taking a lead? Powerhouse clubs are probably not going to like this. We’re not a country accustomed to tapping the brakes on those with an advantage.

What the what? Get over yourselves! The last portion of the article, starting with the above paragraph, goes on to use a 12-5 blowout win for the Orioles with a low attendance number as a smug example of why baseball should be desperate to embrace their proposed changes.

As though the Orioles haven’t given their fans good reason to not want to attend home games in large numbers this season, what with that stellar 39-94 record they’re sporting.

The fundamental assumption here is that baseball is broken. And sure, there are parts of the game that could be improved. Some of which I discussed above. But even if you go with their issues (pace of play and competitiveness), eliminating one out from the team with the lead doesn’t do that in a way that doesn’t fundamentally bastardize the game of baseball.

For pace of play, you can look at the amount of time taken between pitches, the replay process, pitching changes, bad strike zones that make at-bats take longer than they need to, etc. and you can make arguments for changes there.

For competitiveness, well, find a way to disincentivise tanking. The reward of the best draft pick for the worst team makes sense when it is done in good faith. But when you have the top fifteen or so teams competing for the playoffs and the bottom five or so competing to get the most losses, well, that’s not exactly going to produce a universally good product.

That, I think, is the more pressing issue to competitiveness in baseball and this proposition isn’t going to fix it.

In conclusion: