The Washington Times - October 13, 2009, 02:41PM

A handful of bad calls by umpires during baseball’s Division Series have resurrected the debate over whether the league should expand its use of instant replay. There are now increasing calls for baseball to use replay to decide fair or foul calls (it already uses it for such calls on possible homeruns) and some people have suggested the league remove umpires from calling balls and strikes.

It does not appear like baseball is hurtling toward a full embrace of instant replay, but if they were, it seems clear the league would have to figure  out a way to implement it without making games longer. Baseball games already routinely pass three hours in length, and the pace of games is probably one of the biggest complaints from fans.

Short of a major change in the game’s rules—which seems unlikely—baseball is not going to be able to shorten games dramatically. But there are a few things it could do to help.

Keep Batters in the Box

For starters, baseball could begin enforcing its own rules about delays in the game. Some at-bats can last an eternity because the batter keeps stepping out of the box after every pitch to adjust his crotch, wristbands, helmet and whatever else.. But take a look at part of rule 6.02 (b), which states quite clearly: “The batter is not at liberty to step in and out of the batter’s box at will.” Umpires rarely enforce this, but if they did, we’d see a noticeable change in the game’s pace.

Speed Up the Pitchers

There are some pitchers that take absolutely forever between throws. Steve Trachsel is one guy who’s so slow that he frequently hears boos from fans. There is a rule, Rule 8.04, which addresses this, but it’s clearly not enforced.
“When the bases are unoccupied,” the rule reads, “the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball.  Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call ‘Ball.’”

If you’ve ever seen an umpire call a ball against a pitcher for being slow, email me. Because I have never seen it happen, ever.

Also, there’s this provision written in rule 8.03, which says: “a pitcher should get no more than eight warm-up pitches, and that such preparatory pitches shall not consume more than one minute of time.”

If a pitcher gets 8 warm-up pitches but only has a minute to do it, then he’s throwing one every 7.5 seconds. It’s doubtful that pitchers warm up that fast.

Shorten Commercial Breaks

Baseball is not going to reduce the number of commercials because that would cost teams revenue. But baseball could take approach similar to televised boxing, in which broadcasters cut to commercial immediately following a stop in action and return right when things resume. As it stands now, networks take about 15 seconds to get to commercial and can use up as much as a minute before the pitcher finally throws a pitch.

Baseball could shorten the length of breaks between half-innings by asking broadcasters to be more precise about when they exit and return from commercial breaks. This could be challenging to implement, because broadcasters like to use the time before each half-inning for promos, replays and the like. But it’s worth exploring whether breaks between innings could be shortened.

Enforce the Original Strike Zone

This would probably be unpopular, because it would reduce the amount of offense in a game. But umpires enforce the strike zone as written, they would be calling more strikes overall, thus speeding the game up.

The strike zone is officially supposed to be: “the area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.”

Here’s a drawing of the strike zone. It’s very clear that over the years umpires have shied away from calling anything above the belt, when in fact they can technically call strikes as high as the letters on the uniform.
Strike Zone