Rob Manfred is clearly several phases into some millionaires' wager to see how crazy he can make baseball by the time he retires. He's made it clear he's willing to fiddle with the game's rules, process, and time, and, based on MLB's understanding of Millennials, he could very well depart with future athletes playing a sport called "Freshball: It’s Lit, presented by Emoji Barn Discount Emojis."
It’s easy to laugh at things like starting extra innings with a runner on second base, but like all aspects of a dystopian future, it could against all odds become the new reality because we were too busy laughing to stop it. Some players have begun to consider just what sport they will be playing in the years to come. Phillies reliever Pat Neshek spoke out while pondering the altered strike zone MLB is musing.
"The scarier thing for me is: What's going to happen in 10 or 20 years?" Neshek said. "If they're doing this stuff now, what's really going to change? We have to protect our necks. We have to take a stance."
Neshek also expressed relief that he wouldn’t even be around to see the future of baseball. That’s quite a statement from the Phillies’ sole Team USA representative in the World Baseball Classic - which is also unlucky, seeing as that some of the more radical new ideas dreamed up in baseball laboratories are to be tested in the very same international baseball tournament in which Neshek will soon be playing. His first taste of change may be what sparks his rebellion.
Which is understandable. Baseball has changed, and baseball does change, and while that is initially, loudly resisted, as is the case in every forum, we can probaby say we're better off with baseball the way it is today than the way it was decades ago before foul territory was invented or the Phanatic's birth in front of tens of thousands of people.
But Neshek is a 36-year-old with a delivery that looks like the girl from The Ring scrambling through your bedroom window. At this point, change could hinder a smooth transition into retirement.
He's a side-armer who doesn't rely on velocity to keep his walks admirably low. Since he's not throwing darts, the placement of his pitches becomes more of a factor. So you can understand him not wanting his reputation as a late inning stopper to melt because baseball had to redefine the invisible boundaries of what it or isn't a strike in an attempt to get more teens to watch.
In terms of pace of play, another issue affecting and potentially penalizing pitchers, Jeremy Hellickson was one of the ten slowest pitchers in the sport last season, but according to Sports Illustrated, he and the other nine stragglers had a lower combined ERA and BABIP than the ten fastest guys. There's an advantage in getting into a groove and moving the game at your own pace.
But these lackadaisical puppetmasters are clearly the reason baseball can't get the cool teens it wants to look up from their phones. The study, conducted by an exhausted Tom Verducci, desperate to not spend another year of his life covering sporting events that are not designed to end, points out that it's not so much the sinister Hellickson to blame for slow paces, but also relievers like Neshek and the rest of his bullpen cohorts across the league who are the true villains.
You don't have to go back to the 1970s to see how baseball has slowed. It's a modern phenomenon that traces to the rise of the specialized bullpen and the almighty strikeout. Just since 2003, baseball has lost 10,000 balls in play, while the average wait to see one of them has increased by almost 30 seconds, or 16%.
I'm sure Neshek isn't one of those relievers who comes into the game, gets a commercial break, throws a few pitches to one hitter, and then leaves the game, followed by another commercial break, adding twenty minutes to the opposite of a white knuckle thrill ride. He's probably one of these guys who comes in and eats a few innings, keeping things moving so we can all get home to our families.
The Astros used [Neshek] at times last season in a limited role as a righthanded specialist. Nearly half his 60 outings lasted less than an inning.
No... no, it can't be. There must be some mistake. Not only did a Pat Neshek appearance add more time to games, but his signature pitch - a change-up, born from his wonky, injury-caused delivery - was actually the slowest pitch in baseball. He's most vulnerable facing lefties, too, (they slashed .250/.321/.646 against him in 2016) so the cameo appearance he would make is an aspect of the sort of "specialized" bullpen of which Verducci warns.
Baseball is an ever-evolving monster, constantly morphing into a form to try and effectively appeal to our youths. Remember Catcher Cam debuting at the All Star Game one year? My god, I thought baseball was a sport for dinosaurs until I had my teen mind blown by such sexy advances in technology. Rob Manfred is hard at work coming up with a way to steal another generation with his dastardly league of evil, and veterans like Pat Neshek can see it coming. Who knows how baseball will change? It may not be in any of the ways Manfred is hinting about now. But when it comes, at least we will have Neshek here to fight alongside us.
What? He'll probably just retire go do something else? That sounds cool, actually, let's all do that.