The New York Mets have shown they can put runs on the board in 2014. They’ve scored first in a contest 10 times, while holding a lead at some point in 14 of their 15 games. However, their record currently stands at 8-7.
An inconsistent bullpen that owns a 4.66 ERA and 1.45 WHIP is the main culprit.
This isn’t anything Mets fans haven’t seen in recent years. From 2011 to 2013, New York’s bullpen ERA hasn’t ranked higher than 22nd out of 30 MLB teams.
The Mets have also converted just 66 percent of saves opportunities (119 in 180 chances).
Shortening the game would be helpful for a team with a shaky bullpen. Especially after seeing the less-than-stellar performances from Jose Valverde lately.
Buster Olney of ESPN (insider subscription required) reported an unnamed MLB team executive suggested games should be shortened from nine to seven innings.
The executive claims the game is too slow, and it’s getting increasingly harder for teams to keep pitchers healthy. Tommy John surgery is popular this season, and Mets fans have watched Jeremy Hefner, Matt Harvey and Bobby Parnell all go under the knife since last August.
It’s hard to see why shortening a game would limit injuries. In today’s game, prized pitching prospects are handled with so much care. Even if they average six or seven innings per start, pitch counts are incredibly strict.
Let’s look at Zack Wheeler’s April 14 start against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
He threw 6.1 innings before getting taken out. Chris Owings doubled, followed by a walk to A.J. Pollock in the bottom of the seventh, Wheeler’s third free pass allowed.
Even though he’d only thrown 97 pitches, manager Terry Collins decided to use the bullpen. ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin captured Wheeler’s thoughts:
"I would have liked to have finished that seventh, but the pitches started getting up there a little bit. I walked that guy, so it's understandable,” he said.
Dillon Gee only threw 72 pitches over seven shutout innings on Wednesday, but he didn't get the chance to finish what he started.
A few years ago, throwing 100 or more pitches in a start wasn’t a big deal. Now, that’s the limit in a lot of cases. Injuries can happen in an instant. Each team is just one pitch away from losing its ace for a significant period of time.
New York did everything possible to protect Harvey by imposing limits on his innings and pitch counts, but he’s still lost for the year.
The Washington Nationals did the same to keep Stephen Strasburg healthy, but that didn’t happen, either.
A case could be made for this benefiting the Mets, even though shortening something as perfect as a nine-inning baseball game would be foolish. After watching all of the leads they’ve blown in the eighth and ninth innings in recent years, it’d be great to watch those stressful frames disappear.
If New York did succeed under this new rule—if it ever actually happened—it would depend on how the coaches manipulated the pitching staff. If they allowed the starting rotation to continue performing as they currently do, there wouldn’t be a need for seven relievers, allowing more position players on the bench.
How opposing teams would adjust their respective strategies against the Mets also needs consideration. Simply shortening a game doesn’t automatically hand New York more victories, although that would be great.
Teams like the Nationals and Atlanta Braves—who also have strong pitching staffs—would undoubtedly benefit from this kind of rule change.
Looking at how successful the Mets have been at scoring first and grabbing a momentary lead, it’s interesting to think about the effect it could have on their overall record and the game of baseball in general.
Baseball has evolved quite a bit since its establishment. Changes have been made that at one point, no one thought would ever happen. The institution and expanded use of instant replay is a prime example.
It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility to think that shortening the length of a game could happen.
It won’t. And it shouldn't, either.
Like every professional sport, baseball is a business. Two less innings per game means 162 less innings during home games per year. That cuts the amount of revenue teams would earn at concession stands and on licensed merchandise, among other things. Also, if teams are offering less baseball, fans would expect ticket prices to reflect that, as well.
Mike Golic of the ESPN morning radio show Mike and Mike made another fantastic point. Almost every record in the record books would need an asterisk.
No-hitters and perfect games would occur more often, but they shouldn’t be looked at the same as a nine-inning effort.
In theory, a shortened game could benefit New York. A less-than-desirable bullpen during recent years is the motivator. Seeing the large amount of blown leads late in games creates the argument that New York’s season records wouldn’t have been as bad as they were.
However, this is far from a sure thing, and I'd rather them struggle to win a nine-inning contest instead of moving to a seven-inning game.
Baseball has changed with the times, but there are certain things that will never change. That includes the length of the game. No matter who calls for a shortened version, it’s doubtful we’ll ever see anything less than nine innings—unless it rains.
That means the Mets will have to figure out the right combination of relievers for a solid and consistent bullpen, which has proved to be a difficult task.
This kind of talk will probably end here, as it should. This is something about the game that doesn't need to change.
Statistics sourced from MLB.com.
Matt's baseball opinions have been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, Yahoo! Sports, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue and Mets Merized Online. To keep up with Matt, you can follow him on Twitter.