Major League Baseball has made it clear that the series of rule changes it has introduced this season have two primary objectives.
One, obviously, is to make the games go quicker, and that part is, without a doubt, working. Through Monday, the average game has lasted two hours and 38 minutes, down 25 minutes from this point in the 2022 season. For fans accustomed to games that routinely lasted three hours, the difference in pacing has been stunning.
The league also has said it wants to stir up more action by encouraging balls to be put in play and base runners to run more, which in turn could translate to more scoring. Two of the new rules, banning infield overshifts and expanding the size of the bases, are direct attempts at that — but the league also has said the pitch clock should lead to more runs.
Essentially, lots of balls being put in play, lots of action on the bases, and pitchers unable to slow down games when rallies begin to form are supposed to be the fix for what has ailed the game.
Theo Epstein, a “special consultant” to Commissioner Rob Manfred, told Jayson Stark and Doug Glanville on The Athletic’s Starkville podcast that offense very much was in the crosshairs of all of these rules.
“No one, 30 years ago, would have sat there and said, ‘Let’s design a set of rules and a set of equipment so that one day, we’ll get to a point where the league hits .243,’” Epstein said. “No, that’s not baseball. The league should not be hitting .243. The league should be hitting a lot higher than .243.”
Does pitch clock lead to scoring increase?
But can we really assume the most impactful of the rule changes — the pitch clock — will lead to more scoring? I asked a guy who has spent more than 60 years in a dugout, 48 of those spent working in professional baseball with the Atlanta Braves.
“I kind of think pitchers are going to like the fact they can work fast and get in their rhythm,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “A lot of times, you know, you want guys to speed things up and work faster. You never tell them to slow down, you always tell them to speed things up. Really, I think pitchers are going to like it once they get in there. I don’t know if it’s going to do anything with the scoring.”
Snitker’s Braves just completed a three-game sweep in St. Louis in which they scored 17 runs and mashed six homers. The average game time in those contests was 2:31.
In general, scoring is up so far, and appreciably.
Through the first 182 games, which includes Wednesday’s action, teams are averaging 4.49 runs per game. The season-long scoring average in 2022 was 4.28 runs per game.
The scoring average was higher than it is now in the previous three seasons — 4.53 in 2021, 4.65 in the shortened 2020 season, and 4.83 in 2019 — but don’t forget that MLB was, according to multiple reports, using a highly juiced ball in those seasons.
It has paid to lean over early this season
Scoring tends to be lower in the earliest games of a season due to cooler weather, which could indicate this is just the beginning of the run increase.
Due to the lockout, the schedule opened on April 7 last year. In that first week of 2022, teams averaged just 4.03 runs per game, so scoring actually is up nearly a half-run from a year ago.
But continuing to monitor the trends is crucial to a serious bettor. It certainly sounds like the bookmakers are at least considering factoring the increased scoring into their totals.
“It is early, but the trading team continually monitors factors that could impact betting results and will adjust as needed,” said BetMGM sports trader Seamus Magee.
Baseball rule changes sometimes don’t work as planned. Already, the shift ban appears to have had less impact than intended, because some teams simply are shifting an outfielder rather than an infielder to the pull side of the field. And, as Snitker said, perhaps pitchers eventually will adjust to the quicker tempo and use it to their advantage.
But, so far, sports bettors should be picking up on two trends: Make any in-game bets as quickly as possible, and lean toward the over.
Photo: Rob Tringali/Getty Images