In previous pieces, I’ve discussed how extended netting will profoundly alter the player/fan interaction we love as baseball fans. For well over 100 years, we’ve enjoyed what no other sports fan has: The average citizen gets to talk to their sports hero; they get to keep balls tossed and hit into the seats; they get true interaction with the game. Netting alters all of this; the game becomes more sanitized, less gritty. I’ve also illustrated how netting is more expensive than alternative methods I proposed to Major League Baseball Commissioner Manfred in 2015, primarily requiring children to be seated in designated family sections in the far outfield and upper decks and installing less intrusive tempered glass, like what hockey fans have enjoyed for years. There’s an even more sinister problem with extended netting: It will, inevitably, lengthen the game.
A previous post discussed the number of foul outs per game, I concluded there are at least three outs. I’m confident in that number, but prefer conservative numbers. First, a clarification: the three fouls aren’t all fouls that are into the seats. They include long flies and pop-ups in foul territory. However, based on my numbers and the total fouls per game (48) as well as the number which travel into the stands (28), there are at least two outs per game in or very close to the seating areas.
These outs will be lost with netting.
Here’s the breakdown from the earlier piece:
The loss of even one foul out is going to increase the game play by a minimum of 30 seconds per game. This doesn’t sound like much, but given that games already last
These are lost outs. An at-bat after this could result in another three pitches, a total of a couple minutes when we consider wind-ups, deliveries, and all that. The pitch clock doesn’t start immediately, so the 20 seconds isn’t the only time being added to the game for each pitch. Assuming the pitcher only takes 15 seconds, that’s 45 seconds added already. If the ball is hit on the next pitch for even a long fly out, add to this a minimum of five seconds, and we are at 50 seconds.
But there’s the time the batter takes to get situated, for position players to get back into position, for the umpire to sweep the plate and throw out a new ball. These delays add up. They are the issues which are rarely ever considered in any analysis.
Add these up and it frequently takes upwards of a minute per pitch. Like I said, I like to be conservative with my numbers, though. Therefore, the following uses one foul out lost per game as the average.
One out lost per game, which adds just one extra at-bat—the assumption is the next pitch will result in an out or play—as noted will add at least 45 seconds to the game, but most likely a full minute.
Recent changes to the game—pitch clock, etc—have only succeeded in subtracting 6 minutes from the game. That was in 2015. In 2016 those changes resulted in EXTENDING game time to over three hours again.
Ironically, Manfred is the one who insisted on the pace-of-game changes, partially to discourage fans from looking at their phones during long pauses in play. The netting all but negates that idea.
With added netting, baseball can become a zero sum game with respect to the length of the game due to the changes in the other areas negated by the extended netting…and that’s IF my modest calculations hold. If there are two outs on average, look for games to become longer. If at-bats after a lost foul ball out average 2-3 more pitches, the game becomes upwards of 3-4 minutes longer, successfully making the pace-of-game improvements pointless.
Is this significant? Not for those of us who are true baseball fans, those of us who stay the entire game even if our team is being thumped 11-0 in the 7th inning. But to those who constantly complain the game’s too long, this 3-4 minutes DOES make a difference.
The netting also disrupts the flow of the game by giving an advantage to batters. A pop-up foul ball out means a batter is out and that at-bat is over. The netting can give an unfair advantage to the batter in this sense. Fouls high enough to get over the screening but still close enough to reach for—if no netting existed—would be outs. Thus, all Major League Baseball has succeeded in doing is extending the game. This problem might already be showing it self given the jump in game time lengths between 2015 and 2016.
That is, where the netting has been extended is now out of play. Routine short pop-ups near the dugouts are now dead. This means the batter now catches a break, and what would have been an out is not a homerun or places the game winning runner on base. They are now in for one more at-bat, an at-bat they never had before.
With more pitches, though minimal, more starters will leave the game earlier than usual. This is simple math in our current situation with the arbitrary 100 pitch count.
These are all aspects Manfred has failed miserably to consider in his hasty decision to protect fans from themselves and placate those who file frivolous lawsuits, like Gayle Payne who purchases season tickets in the same spot for decades, then was surprised when she got hit by one.
Netting, in other words, appears to be more problematic than just in detracting from the overall experience. Manfred, yet again, dropped the ball on netting. He’s been running the league by Executive Order, failing to research all aspects.