In mid-April, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo made his case to shorten the 162-game MLB season. “I think we play too much baseball…as a fan you’re going to a baseball game in April, and it’s raining, snowing, and freezing rain. Is it really that much fun? That’s my question.”
While diehard traditionalists would call these comments borderline sacrilegious, let’s say Rizzo has a point. And let’s say Commissioner Rob Manfred grants his wish. But, instead of dropping down to 154 games or something slight, he takes it to the extreme.
Manfred, out of spite, or purely for the sake of continuing to
ruin change our nation’s pastime, shortens the season to mirror an NFL-length, 16-game stretch. Teams play every Sunday for 16 weeks to determine who makes the postseason.
How would the game change? How would GMs assemble their rosters? How would managers craft their lineups?
With games every Sunday, starting pitchers would get an extra day of rest. Aces would rule the league. The Nationals could start Max Scherzer every game and, with extra rest, he could probably go 9 innings every time out.
By those numbers, he’d accumulate 144 innings in the regular season — over 60 innings less than the workhorses of today’s game.
However, pitchers aren’t used to throwing that many innings in such a short period of time. While it’s less innings overall, it’s a much higher concentration than they are accustomed to. So injury concerns would probably scare a lot of teams away from this strategy.
Instead, they may prefer to roll with 2 or even 3 starting pitchers to spread the innings out and keep everyone fresh. Or, they could take the Tampa Bay Rays approach…
Specialization is a huge part of today’s game. But teams would amp it up even more in a 16-game season. Instead of lefty specialists, we might see batter specialists.
Assuming teams would be playing their division rivals twice a year, relievers may be deployed to face a specific hitter in their division rival’s lineup.
For instance, Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is 1 for 18 with 7 strikeouts in his career against Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez. So, for the Dodgers, having Baez on their roster gives them a competitive advantage in 2 of their 16 games a year.
Teams would take batter vs. pitcher matchups much more seriously, and those stats would carry much more weight in free agency.
Given the significance of matchup success, managers might be more careful with how they structure their lineups. Instead of just blindly putting their star hitter in the 3 or 4-hole, they might glance at the numbers first.
For example, Padres Andy Green might think twice before penciling in Eric Hosmer at the top of the order against lefty starters Cole Hamels or J.A. Happ. For his career, Hosmer is a mere 1 for 25 with 6 strikeouts against the veteran southpaws.
On the other hand, teams may elect to fill their benches. All-or-nothing guys like Mark Reynolds or Chris Davis might come off the bench for juicy matchups. Pinch runners would be more widely used. AL teams could really take advantage of their DH spot.
Slumps & Slow Starts
In a normal season, proven players get a long leash if they start off slow. Teams trust that over the long haul, everything will even out.
But with only 16 games, every at-bat becomes crucial. Players need to be on their A game at all times. Matt Carpenter would not have the opportunity to go 6 for 60. It simply would not be tolerated.
All in all, cutting the season down to NFL length is quite drastic. But it does prove a point. Every change to the game, no matter how small, has a chain reaction. From the executives in the front office all the way down to the umpires on the field, everyone is forced to adjust.
Sure, times have changed and the game is advancing at an exponential rate. But at what point do we stop and say, the MLB is just fine the way it is?