Even the biggest baseball fans sometimes find the actual games to be a bit, um, tedious. That feeling was crystalized this week with comments Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper made to ESPN Magazine.
Harper told the magazine that baseball is a
… tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do. I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair. If that’s Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom or Manny Machado or Joc Pederson or Andrew McCutchen or Yasiel Puig — there’s so many guys in the game now who are so much fun.
Baseball stats guru Bill James agrees that baseball needs to shake things up but he has another idea: He’d love to kill the balk rule.
Speaking on a Moneyball Reunion panel at the MIT Sports Analytics Conference Friday, James, who works with the Boston Red Sox, posited his idea. He likened the balk rule to the NBA forbidding fast breaks. Pitchers should be able to do what they want on the mound, he said.
If you want a full understanding of the balk rule in all its complexity, you can read it here. But for mere mortals, it seeks to balance the ability of base runners to steal bases, with the ability of pitchers to prevent them from doing so. Basically, if a pitcher starts his pitching motion and then suddenly throws to a base rather than to the batter at home plate, the base runner is awarded an extra base.
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Balk calls are often controversial because they rely a ton on the umpire’s view of events and they are not reviewable by instant replay.
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Co-panelist and Moneyball author Michael Lewis agreed that James’ idea would make baseball more fun to watch, but “so would tackling the runners.”