By Jon Weisman
Monday was Labor Day, and the Dodgers and Angels did their best to honor the working man through strife instead of taking a holiday.
The two teams spent three hours and 52 minutes playing their nine innings, and quickly, good men fair and true were quick to blame September roster expansion.
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) September 8, 2015
September baseball…when there are too many people available to play and timely games go to die.
— Brett Anderson (@BAnderson3737) September 8, 2015
If only shortening the game were as simple as keeping September roster limits at 25 players instead of 40.
Here’s the reality: Of the 14 relievers used by both teams last night, only two — the Angels’ Wesley Wright and Mike Morin — were September additions. Every other reliever in the game has at least 25 appearances in the Majors this year.
You can try to argue that full-time relievers made more entrances than normal, but that’s more about this being the pressure point of the pennant race than roster limits. Looking at the Dodgers, there’s nothing to indicate that Don Mattingly would have managed his pitching staff differently Monday, not with a game on the line and Clayton Kershaw — who rarely needs much relief support — pitching the next day.
This was the ninth time this year that the Dodgers have used at least six relievers in a game. Seven of those games were before September.
Maybe Mattingly tries to get an extra inning out of Zack Greinke. But an admittedly tired Greinke, who didn’t have his best stuff throughout this game, could just as easily have given up the two soft singles that Luis Avilan allowed to start the bottom of the seventh, and then we’re back in the same boat.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia did pour on the pitching changes a bit, using a team-record eight relievers — the team hadn’t used more than six relievers in a game this season before Monday. But that would define this game as the extreme, not the norm.
For the sake of argument, let’s remove two of the five mid-inning pitching changes from the Angels and one of the four mid-inning pitching changes by the Dodgers. (Keep in mind that pitching changes between innings don’t add to the game time.) That takes a 3:52 game down to, what, 3:42? That’s not nothing, but it’s not the main culprit for Monday’s marathon.
In fact, it’s worthwhile to remember that this wasn’t even the longest nine-inning game the Dodgers have played this year. On July 6, the Dodgers and Phillies played nine innings in 4:13. And the reason for that is about the same as the reason for Monday.
Pitchers were throwing a lot of pitches without getting outs.
When Kenley Jansen struck out Andres Blanco for the final out July 6, he was throwing the 367th pitch of the game to the 87th batter — and that was without a bottom of the ninth being played. When Jansen got David DeJesus to fly out for the final out Monday, Jansen was throwing the 338th pitch of the game to the 89th batter.
Now, one point I’m willing to concede about Monday’s game is that increased rosters might have made outs more difficult to come by. Without players like Justin Ruggiano and Scott Schebler on the bench, maybe Andre Ethier, batting against a lefty, makes an out instead of doubling like Ruggiano did. Then again, that’s also speculation, because Ethier might have gotten a hit anyway. Perhaps a move that wasn’t made would have yielded more offense.
There might be valid reasons to change the rules regarding September roster expansion, but Monday’s game isn’t it. Neither is the notion that September games must be played exactly the same they they were the previous five months. In fact, it’s laughable that a sport whose entire history celebrates nonconformity — asymmetrical ballparks since the beginning of time, designated hitters and unbalanced schedules in recent decades — suddenly must come to grips with keeping the rosters at a constant number from April through October.
Every team in baseball is playing under the same roster rule and has every ability to plan for it. Everybody knows roster expansion is coming. That some teams make more use of the 40-man roster than others is no more unfair than one team using more players from its 25-man roster in a game in June than another team does.
One proposal — to limit rosters for an individual game to 25 players, but to be able to choose those players from the full pool of 40 in September — would have had little effect on the length of Monday’s game, since the managers could have been about as liberal with pitching changes as they had been, knowing that they could switch out tired relievers the next day.
I’m not militantly against altering the roster expansion rules, but I’d lament the loss of the annual peek at future prospects, I welcome the break given to burned-out pitching staffs and I’m skeptical of the effect it would have on time of game. As Monday’s game showed, it’s not nothing, but it’s far from everything.