Starting in the 2017 season, Major League Baseball has decided to change the rules of the intentional walk. Instead of forcing a pitcher to throw four pitches to move the batter to first base, the manager can now signal the umpire from the dugout which will send the opponent down the line without seeing a single pitch.
The rule change was announced Tuesday by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. The purpose of the rule change is to lessen the length of the games. The average baseball game lasts about three hours. In comparison to other major sports in the country, baseball is not as captivating and many critics would argue that the game is boring for how long it lasts. Baseball executives are aware of the pressures they face to get a larger national audience interested in the sport again, hence the new way to intentionally walk a batter.
•The MLB has approved to change the intentional walk rule. Which now will be granted following dugout signal. Take a look at these classics. pic.twitter.com/g3iyEW5kB3
— Dylan (@DylansFreshTake) February 22, 2017
Over the last five years, the amount of intentional walks has decreased each season. Last year, there were 932 intentional walks all season. That is an intentional walk every two and half games. With those numbers, it seems unlikely that the length of the game will change that much at all.
Any time there is change, you can expect some backlash and this rule change is no exception. Many baseball fans, including some players, have expressed their distaste for the rule change. Most critics would argue that it takes away the room for human error that has led to some interesting plays in the past. The most common mistake pitchers make while trying to walk a batter intentionally is throwing a wild pitch that scores a runner from third. There have also been cases where the batter got a base hit because the pitcher could not keep the ball off the plate. Just last year, Gary Sanchez of the New York Yankees hit a pitch during an intentional walk for a sacrifice fly that almost went out of the park.
Major League Baseball is still in negotiations with the Players Association about other potential rule changes, although none will be enacted this year. Some of the suggestions include implementing a pitch clock, changing the strike zone and limiting visits to the mound. Manfred said he was not happy with the union’s unwillingness to consider these new rule changes.
It is possible that the new rule will have little impact to the way the game is played. This season will be the first test and the intentional walks might go unnoticed as the year goes on or people will remain frustrated with the rule. Either way, baseball will play on.