It wasn’t long ago that we talked about how the Chicago Cubs could set up their rotation and taxi squad of relievers. On Monday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that there would be pace of play rules changes for 2018, just in time for spring training exhibition games to work out the kinks and get players on board.
Commissioner Manfred said: “I am pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with the Players Association to take concrete steps to address pace of play with the cooperation of players. My strong preference is to continue to have ongoing dialogue with players on this topic to find mutually acceptable solutions.”
The rules changes will mostly affect the number of times pitcher and catcher conversations can happen, in concert with new measures to curb sign stealing. I’m sure that some of these rules can be gamed depending on the teams and the umpiring crew, but at least something was agreed upon so those of you who hate the idea of the pitch clock get a stay of execution, as it were.
Let’s go through some of the more interesting ones…
Mound visits without a pitching change shall be limited to six (6) per team, per nine innings. For any extra-innings played, each Club shall be entitled to one additional non-pitching change mound visit per inning.
This includes any mound visit in which somebody has to go to the pitcher on the mound after leaving their position, including all infielders and coaches. The second visit from a manager or coach results in an automatic pitching change as we are used to, but this should curtail the number of times a pitcher and catcher have to go over signs throughout a game, sometimes multiple times in a single inning. There is an exception to ensure that a catcher doesn’t get crossed up because they actually forgot the signs, but that’s up to the umpire. I imagine that this will require batteries to ensure they really have their primary, secondary, and tertiary signals down pat so they won’t have to be at the mercy of a cranky umpire.
The between inning breaks are now defined, and there is a procedure in place towards the end of the break:
Time Remaining | Required Action
25 seconds: Umpire signals pitcher to complete last warmup pitch.
20 seconds: Batter’s announced and must leave on-deck circle, batter walk-up music shall begin, and pitcher shall complete last warmup pitch.
0 seconds: Pitcher must begin motion to deliver first pitch.
This means that the pitcher, when the broadcast returns from a commercial, is likely in his set or windup motion and we will have less dead time. The fans at the ballpark may notice it too in the long run as a few seconds are shaved off. Again there are vague guidelines to allow for extra preparation time, mostly to prevent injury and for the occasional idiot on the field, so it will be interesting to see how teams and individual players try to push their limits. The timer also resets dependent on whether the pitcher or catcher was on the bases or at bat, so there will be some delay especially during contests at National League parks or involving Shohei Ohtani.
Frequent violators of these pace policies (looking at you, Pedro Baez) may be subject to escalating punishments:
5. Enforcement. Umpires shall direct players and enforce the inning break and pitching change time limits on the field. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline for just cause by the Office of the Commissioner pursuant to Article XI(C) of the Basic Agreement.
To improve the pacing of reviews and prevent sign-stealing:
IV. Video Replay Review
The following adjustments will be made to the video replay technology:
A. Install capability for all Club video review rooms to receive direct slow motion camera angles for the 2018 championship season;
B. Install new phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout, and monitor the communications over those lines to prevent their use for sign-stealing.
MLB has gone all NSA on the dugouts, so I imagine savvy teams will enact some kind of code like the Germans using ENIGMA machines during World War II. Getting video and angles to the video people makes sense to speed up the decision to challenge a play, although what MLB really needs to do is to set a time limit on reviews. If you can’t decide within a minute, let the call stand.
Most of these rules seem reasonable and will give the players a chance to avoid the pitch clock if they can move the game along at a better pace. This is better for the players in the long run, as standing around too long might invite injury, not to mention not having to be shackled by more clocks. This is also better for the fans, who will enjoy more action per unit time. And anything that is better for fans will likely invite newer fans, which will be better for MLB in the long run. Now, it’s up to players, managers, and umpires to enforce these rules so they don’t change much more, as I believe the pitch clock WILL be implemented if they still take too long.