With home runs, strikeouts and game times at record levels , Commissioner Rob Manfred says baseball is open to making changes in the sport's rules.
Major League Baseball proposed several initiatives last offseason, including a 20-second pitch clock, a limit of one mound trip by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raising the bottom of the strike zone slightly to its pre-1996 level . The only change the union agreed to was to allow intentional walks to be signaled without throwing pitches.
"There have been dramatic changes in the game, the way the game's taught, the way the game is played at the big league level," Manfred said Tuesday during a meeting with the Baseball Writers' Association of America. "There is a dramatically increased tolerance for strikeouts by offensive players. There's much, much more emphasis on the home run as the principal offensive tool in the game. There's a dramatic increase in the use of relief pitchers, even to the point of kind of a rotating bottom of the roster between Triple-A and who's in the big leagues."
The percentage of plate appearances resulting in home runs peaked at 2.99 percent in 2000, the height of the Steroids Era, according to data compiled by the commissioner's office. After sinking to 2.28 percent in 2014, it rose to 2.67 percent the following year, 3.04 percent last season and 3.30 percent this year.
The percentage of plate appearances resulting in strikeouts has increased for 12 consecutive years, from 16.4 percent in 1999 to 21.6 percent this season.
"Fans like home runs, it seems, and fans like strikeouts, it seems, and we have a lot of both," players' association head Tony Clark said.
Manfred agreed, but only if the strikeouts are by a dominant pitcher, such as a Clayton Kershaw.
"I think where it gets troubling from a fan perspective is tons and tons of strikeouts, no action, lots of pitching changes," Manfred said.
The average ratio of relief pitchers to starters per game has climbed from 2.01 in 1990 to 3.15 last season. It stands at 3.10 this year at the All-Star break but rises each season after active rosters expand from 25 to 40 on Sept. 1.
"Other sports have been more aggressive about managing what's going on on the field in terms of what their game looks like than we have been, and I'm certainly open to the idea that we should take a more aggressive posture," Manfred said.
MLB is concerned about the increasing length of games. Nine-inning games have averaged 3 hours, 5 minutes this season, up from an even 3 hours last year and 2:56 in 2015.
"We are having dialogue with Major League Baseball and we will continue to have dialogue with Major League Baseball," Clark said. "We expect those conversations to pick up here in the second half of the season."
MLB has the right to impose for 2018 the proposals made last offseason that were not accepted. That, however, would be a last resort.
"I would much rather have agreement than proceed unilaterally," Manfred said. "That is particularly true when it comes to changes that affect the play of the game on the field because only the players are in between those lines, not any of us."
Manfred said it hired an expert to audit the people who have tested baseballs and found no irregularities, but said MLB is considering stricter specifications for the manufacturing process.
"One thing that we're thinking about is bats," he said. "We've kind of taken for granted that bats aren't different."
Clark said bats have changed.
"Over the course of the last probably half dozen, maybe 10 years now, the improvement to the quality of the wood is apparent," he said.
On other topics:
—MLB could soon award multiple All-Star Games to host cities. Next year's game will be at Washington and the 2019 game will be in Cleveland. The Los Angeles Dodgers (who last hosted in 1980) and Chicago Cubs (1990) hope to get All-Star Games. "I'll probably do three at once," Manfred said:
—No change will be made this season in the Indians' use of the controversial Chief Wahoo logo.
—MLB expects its efforts will cause a rebound in the number of African-American players, just 7.7 percent on opening-day rosters this year, down from 18 percent in 1991, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. "I think the draft results suggest that we have made a difference and I'm very optimistic you will see an increase in the number of African-American players at the big league level," Manfred said.
—MLB is concerned teams used the new 10-day disabled list, down from 15 days, around the four-day All-Star break to manipulate rosters. "I don't like some of the activity that's gone on in terms of the use of the 10-day DL and we're having conversations about that internally," Manfred said.
—MLB is tracking New Jersey's appeal of the federal ban on sports gambling, a case that has been accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court. "If there's going to be a change in the regulatory structure with respects to sports gambling, we needed to be in a position to meaningfully engage and shape, try to shape what the new regulatory scheme looks like," Manfred said. "We're in the process of talking to our owners and figuring out where we want to be in the event that there is in fact a significant change coming."
—Manfred would like a uniform posting system for international professionals that covers players from clubs in Japan, South Korea, Cuba and other nations. He predicted significant interest if Shohei Otani, a 23-year-old pitcher and outfielder with the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan's Pacific League, becomes available.