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Former Mets GM Steve Phillips has bold idea to speed up games

July 24,2016 10:09

​He even said he'd consider a rule limiting the number of pitching changes per game, which potentially would speed up and create more action late in games, perhaps reducing the current dominance by all the high-velocity relievers. It's a forward ...


​Commissioner Rob Manfred was out and about last week, making it clear he is open to changes that could make games faster-paced and more entertaining; in other words, more appealing to younger fans.

​He even said he’d consider a rule limiting the number of pitching changes per game, which potentially would speed up and create more action late in games, perhaps reducing the current dominance by all the high-velocity relievers.

It’s a forward-thinking approach, and good for Manfred for recognizing that baseball could use some new ideas to keep the younger generation engaged.

But if he is willing to consider such dramatic change, I’d be more inclined to try an idea I heard from Steve Phillips, the former Mets’ GM and current MLB Radio Network host.

Phillips proposes a change that would speed up games and also get to the heart of baseball’s most pressing concern these days -- protecting pitching arms.

Rather than four balls and three strikes, his format would have three balls for a walk and two strikes for a strikeout.

The idea sounds a bit too radical at first blush, but when you think about it, in today’s game it would be like starting every at-bat with a count of 1-1 on the batter. Would that really be such a bad thing?

The worst games, after all, are the ones that seem to have endless 3-2 counts, with hitters taking pitches trying to work counts and pitchers nibbling at the corners, trying to make the perfect pitch when ahead in the count.

​Playing by the Phillips rules, 2-1 would be the new 3-2.

​“Nothing would really change as far as the outcome," Phillips said by phone on Friday. “You’d just get there more quickly.’’

​Phillips speaks from some experience on the subject. As a high school player in Michigan, his Catholic School League played its games by those rules. And he recalls it feeling quite normal, with nothing out of the ordinary about the numbers of either walks or strikeouts.

“It worked," he said. “It shortens games but it’s more about pace of game than time of game: how quickly a form of action follow the previous action. With shorter counts, there’s a lot less time between the action."

That’s part of the appeal, but Phillips says the biggest incentive is how it would reduce workloads for starting pitchers while still allowing them to go deeper in games. Importantly, then, the highest-paid players, starting pitchers, could pitch longer and be bigger factors in determining outcomes, the way they were before pitch counts ruled the game.

“It would protect young pitchers, which is what everyone is looking to do now,’’ Phillips said. “Because it would take fewer pitches for a starter to get through each inning, he might be able to go deeper.

“And if you’re spending $30 million a year on a starter, that’s what you want from him.’’

Indeed, it’s likely that on many a night, a starter could throw a complete game, or at least hand the ball directly to the closer for the ninth inning, without approaching the 100-pitch mark.

To me, that’s a better way of eliminating some of the down time than making new rules limiting the number of pitching changes per game, which affects a manager’s strategy in a completely contrived way.

So Phillips’ idea is intriguing, though he admits it’s unlikely Major League Baseball is anywhere near being ready for it.

“I can’t see Tony La Russa or Jim Leyland saying, ‘yeah, let’s do that,’ ‘’ Phillips said with a laugh. “But at the very least, why not try it in the minor leagues.

“To me it’s really more about protecting pitchers than anything else. In the minor leagues it would give pitchers the repetitions of facing more batters, which is what you want, without asking them to throw too many pitches.

“And from the offensive side, you’re not messing with the numbers players can put up. Maybe guys who never swing at the first pitch would have to change their approach, but that wouldn’t take much adjusting.

​“Everybody talks about how the 1-1 pitch is so critical in an at-bat, one way or the other, so now you’d be starting at that 1-1 pitch.’’

​If dramatic changes are coming, as Manfred seems to be hinting, the Phillips Plan is at least worth considering.

HALL OBSESSION

​​Whatever Mike Piazza says during his Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday, it probably won’t be as revealing as what he wrote in his 2013 autobiography, when he admitted he was practically consumed with making it to Cooperstown. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

A lot of it had to do with carrying a chip on his shoulder, as he admitted he did, over the doubts that surrounded his rise from 62nd round draft pick to the greatest offensive catcher in baseball history _ including so much speculation that he used steroids.

“Election to the Hall of Fame would, for me, validate everything,’’ Piazza wrote. “I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t admit that my legacy is something I ponder quite a bit. Mostly, it bewilders me.

“I honestly don’t know why it is, exactly, that, from start to finish, I’ve been the object of so much controversy, resentment, skepticism, scrutiny, rumor, and doubt. I’ve thought about it quite a bit. Maybe it’s because my dad was rich. Maybe it’s because Tommy Lasorda looked after me. Maybe it’s because I was a jerk from time to time.

​“Whatever the reason, I suppose I might be a little oversensitive about it all, except that I feel I’m defending more than just my reputation. I’m standing up for what I consider to be _ deeply wish to be _ a fundamentally and triumphantly American story.’’

CENTER OF ATTENTION

The Mets aren’t really going to go through with this idea of putting Michael Conforto in center field, are they?

It seems like too much to ask, especially with Conforto just being recalled from the minors, trying to re-establish himself at the plate in the big leagues.

The Mets desperately need him to be that No. 3 hitter he was in April before hitting the skids. With that in mind, putting Conforto in center, where he hasn’t played since high school, and doesn’t have the required speed for the position, seems counter-productive.

At age 35, Curtis Granderson isn’t a good solution there either, having lost speed and range, but at least he has a lot of experience in center.

Obviously Juan Lagares makes it a non-issue when he’s in the lineup against left-handed pitching, but this looms as a major issue for the Mets.

It makes sense to keep Yoenis Cespedes in left while he’s dealing with a quad strain, but his comments last week make it sound as if he’d rather not play there the rest of the season.

Well, then it’s up to Terry Collins to convince him otherwise, especially since Cespedes told the Mets when he re-signed that he was willing to play center. Keeping his bat in the lineup is the top priority, but if he’s healthy, the Cuban star needs to do what’s right for this team as well.

SEEING IS BELIEVING

When Aroldis Chapman’s two-strike fastball to Brandon Belt, clocked at 103 mph, barely missed off the outside corner in the ninth inning Friday night, Yankees’ announcer Michael Kay reacted incredulously:

“How can you take that pitch?"

To which Paul O’Neill quickly replied: “Because you can’t even see it…or hit it."

Spoken like an old lefthanded hitter who’s grateful Chapman came along after he retired.

THERE’S A CATCH

Spoke to Tim McCarver last week for a story that you can read in our Piazza special section Sunday.

Interesting to hear him say that after all these years, he still considers Jerry Grote, Tom Seaver’s old batterymate, the best defensive catcher he has ever seen. This despite the fact that Grote, a hard-boiled Texas, agitated opponents to the point where, McCarver says, “for years we didn’t even talk to each other at Old Timers Games."

As always, McCarver, once so popular as a Mets’ broadcaster, was insightful and engaging, still busy at age 74 calling some Cardinals’ game on TV, including the next few days at Citi Field.

But he admits he is feeling the effects of 21 years in the big leagues as a catcher.

“It speeds the process of aging,’’ McCarver said. “The hands really take a beating. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in good shape and doing fine overall but I’ve had a lot of problems with my hands the last few years."

Then he laughed and said, “On my tombstone it’s going to read: Pitchers Did This."

Steve Phillips,Mets,MLB,Rob Manfred,

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