Mets manager Terry Collins ordered a pair of intentional walks on Friday night to Daniel Murphy of the Washington Nationals.
The first time it worked as the Nationals did not score after the walk. The second time — when Murphy was issued a free pass in the ninth — it did not because Neil Ramirez then unintentionally walked Anthony Rendon with the bases loaded to force in Washington’s final run in a 7-2 victory at Citi Field.
Friday’s game took two hours and 56 minutes. Thanks to baseball’s new no-pitch intentional walk rule, Mets fans were able to unhappily head for the exits a few minutes earlier than they would have last season.
Before 2017, pitchers had to lob four pitches way outside the strike zone to a standing catcher to complete an intentional walk. In an effort to speed up the game, baseball this year decided to just politely tell the batter to take first base.
Has it worked? Well, the average time of a major league game has gone up by four minutes this season, from 3:04 to 3:08 (all stats through Friday’s games). So in that aspect it has not.
The Mets are leading the major leagues in ordering intentional walks with 29. Mets batters have been walked intentionally 17 times. So if you figure an old four-pitch IBB would take about a minute, that’s a total savings of 46 minutes, right?
Except the average time of a Mets game this season has gone up from 3:05 in 2016 to 3:12. Most of that can probably be attributed to the team’s inconsistent pitching and voluminous number of pitching changes.
At least 29 no-pitch intentional walks mean Mets pitchers have shaved a total of 116 pitches — if 60-mile per hour lobs can be called pitches — off their pitch counts. And we know how much teams, especially the Mets, love pitch counts.
As for the Yankees, their games averaged 3:03 last season — two minutes less than Mets games. This year, Yankees games are averaging 3:16. And they have only saved an estimated 14 minutes because of no-pitch intentional walks; the Yankees have issued eight and received six (three to Aaron Judge — maybe that number should be higher).
Especially early on this season, no-pitch intentional walks may not have saved as much time as intended because batters weren’t immediately sure what to do when one was ordered.
“It’s kind of weird,” said Mets catcher Rene Rivera, who has been intentionally walked three times in 2017. “I got in the box and the umpire said, ‘Hey, go to first base.’ I was like, ‘What? I go to first base? OK.’ ’’
The procedure is as follows: the manager gets the attention of the plate umpire and holds up four fingers. The umpire tells the batter to take first base.
“It’s just different,” said Mets outfielder Michael Conforto, who leads the team with five intentional walks. “I go up there and the umpire says, ‘Hey, that’s four.’ He just says, ‘Take your base.”
Along with the batter and pitcher, no-pitch intentional walks have ramifications for the on-deck batter, too, who if he is not paying close attention may not realize he needs to scamper to the plate.
“I’ve been impacted by it when the guy before me got no-pitch walked,” Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “So I was walking on deck and he was already running to first. Now that it’s been around a little bit you can kind of predict when it’s going to happen. You actually sit in the hole in the dugout doing your routine.”
Often, fans in the stands are confused when a batter suddenly appears on first base without any pitches having been thrown. Then again, most fans are probably too busy looking at their phones anyway to notice what’s happening on the field.
Baseball can be a plodding game at times, especially when managers are slow-walking to the mound to make pitching change after pitching change after pitching change. That’s the intentional walk that really needs to change if baseball wants to cut down on game times. Don’t bet on it though.