MLB: Relief Pitcher Limits Would Not Make Baseball Better

When did great relief pitchers become the enemy of baseball? | Jamie Squire/Getty Images

While Donald Trump was in Cleveland busy trying to make America greater in his image, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was making the rounds floating ideas about making baseball better. During a pit stop at ESPN’s “Mike & Mike,” the commish mentioned capping the number of relievers a manager could use during the course of a game. He said he favored such measures, whether reliever limits were in place for a particular inning or per game.

Not only would relief pitcher limits keep the pace moving along, Manfred said, but it might make lockdown bullpen studs more vulnerable to offense, thereby increasing the fireworks at the end of the game. Judging by the early returns on this theory, we’re unlikely to see it go into effect any time soon, but for the sake of argument, we thought we’d explore whether Manfred has a point about how relievers affect the game and how to correct it.

Here are three reasons Manfred’s suggestion is a complete swing and miss.

1. Great relievers don’t slow the game down

Manfred has been trying to address the average length of games and pace of play since succeeding Bud Selig before the 2015 season, and there were some improvements in his first year as commissioner. However, things have gone back the other way, pushing the averaging game time back over three hours in 2016. Yet limiting relievers would not speed things along.

Watching games regularly this season, the most obvious change in 2016 is batters are stepping out between every pitch and pitchers still have no time limit between deliveries to the plate. (Just watch a David Price start to experience time standing still.)

Great relievers, on the other hand, take the ball and tend to deliver quickly. With the type of stuff Dellin Betances or Wade Davis showcases on a nightly basis, there is not much to contemplate. Here it is, and no, you can’t hit it.

Dellin Betances has put on show-stopping performances out of the Yankees bullpen. | Patrick Smith/Getty Images

2. Great relievers make games more exciting

So we should limit the use of relief pitchers because they’re too good? The most absurd thing Manfred said during the “Mike & Mike” appearance was “our relief pitchers have become so dominant at the back end that they actually rob action out of the end of the game, the last few innings of the game.”

Of course they do, but he should have noticed the buzz in ballparks when late-inning studs take the mound. Kansas City’s relief corps were the rock stars of the 2015 season, and their fireworks continued all the way through the World Series. The New York Yankees’ three relief aces have delivered the same kind of excitement in the Bronx in 2016. (Without them, the Yankees would be dreadful as entertainment.)

Stars are stars, and you can’t alter the game because there are so many coming out of the pen these days. What’s next? Limiting the number of aces the Mets can have because they outpitch the opposition too often?

Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles

Darren O’Day has been one of the late-inning relievers having his way with hitters. | Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

3. The problem is the other seven innings

Seven innings of watching David Price think, collect himself, look in at the catcher, shake off a sign, then finally, mercifully, throw an off-speed pitch well outside the zone could not be more tedious. We know Price makes a ton of money, so why not raise the fines on him for dulling the senses of every human watching? The same goes for batters who step out between every pitch to adjust their batting gloves and repeat some mantra.

These tiresome episodes are repeated throughout the game yet somehow elude Manfred when he looks for ways to make things more attention-grabbing. Batters arguing balls and strikes is again rampant in the game as well. Maybe umpires should go back to ejecting them? We can think of several things off the top of our head that would make the game faster and more exciting.

Leave relief pitchers alone. Great hitters find a way to beat them, and that type of drama is far more valid than arbitrary appearance limits. As long as the number of roster spots remains the same, teams have to make a sacrifice for every arm they keep in the pen. Let’s look at the more obvious, less interesting elements first.

Source: ESPN

Connect with Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com.

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