MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Commish: MLB weighs pros, cons of reliever limits

The average Major League game features 6.1 relief pitchers -- or, basically, three per team. That's nearly a full reliever more per game than just 15 years ago (5.3), illustrating how much the late-inning matchup game has developed in the sport in a short time.

Among the suggestions for how to improve baseball's pace of play is the notion of limiting the number of times a manager can go to his 'pen in a given inning or a given game. And it's a suggestion that Commissioner Rob Manfred, in an interview on ESPN's "Mike & Mike" on Thursday, said is under consideration.

"I am actually in favor of something like that," Manfred said. "We've spent a ton of time on this issue in the last few months."

Pace of play is one of many topics being discussed with the MLB Players Association in advance of the Dec. 1 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. Though the multiple rule changes were initiated prior to 2015 -- preventing batters from stepping out of the box after taking a pitch and installing a clock to ensure play began promptly after commercial breaks -- helped lead to a six-minute decrease in average of time game from '14 (with a 2015 average of 2 hours, 56 minutes, according to STATS LLC), the average crept back up to the three-hour mark in the first half of this year.

Manfred has compared pace of play to "dandelions in your front yard," in that the issue keeps sprouting up, and the league and the union are working on various proposals to speed things up.

Limiting relief usage would be a revolutionary change to the way games are managed, and it would certainly impact the prevalence of instances in which a relief pitcher faces just a single batter before handing the ball over to somebody else. 

"The problem with relief pitchers," Manfred said, "is that they're so good. I've got nothing against relief pitchers, but they do two things to the game: The pitching changes themselves slow the game down, and our relief pitchers have become so dominant at the back end that they actually lop action out of the end of the game, the last few innings of the game."

Manfred addressed several other big-picture topics on the appearance, including …

Addressing the All-Star Game rules so that the starters stay in the game longer: "I am in favor of the idea that we make some changes so the game is played as close to a regular-season game as possible," Manfred said.

Bringing back scheduled doubleheaders: While Manfred said there is a "certain charm to the idea of spending an entire day at the ballpark," he noted that the economic issues of condensing two "gates" into one and the scheduling issues should a doubleheader be rained out are major difficulties. "We actually had conversations [about doubleheaders] in the last round of bargaining," he said, "and I suspect we will have them again in this round, because they are a way of tightening the schedule and producing more off-days."

Increasing performance-enhancing drug penalties: "We would generally be in favor of it," he said, "but I will tell you, the MLBPA has not taken the position at the table. In other words, they have not been in favor of increased penalties."

Reducing games from nine to seven innings: A non-starter, in Manfred's mind. "Three outs, three strikes, four balls, nine innings," he said. "Kind of sacrosanct. But more important, I don't think people want less baseball. I think what people want is baseball that moves along a little bit better."

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.