There have only been a couple of Cactus League games so far, and the broadcasters and media haven’t made too much of it lately, but we know that MLB is big on pace of play this year. Among the biggest rule changes to expect in 2018 is the limit on mound visits. Given how Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon enjoys using Willson Contreras behind the dish, and how much Willson likes to converse with his batterymates, it is easy to anticipate this being a problem. Earlier, Willson did suggest that he would be willing to break the limit to make sure he got his point across to his pitcher, but MLB clamped down on that by ensuring that the umpire would either stop the visit or perhaps even eject somebody, although it isn’t clear at this time how enforcement will look like.
Maddon had some thoughts on the limit on mound visits:
“I get upset in the dugout for two reasons: missed signs, and when the catcher doesn’t go out and talk to the pitcher. When the catcher knows what the right thing to throw was — and the pitcher keeps shaking him off and finally the catcher cedes and the ball is [hit] off the wall,” Maddon said earlier this week. “That hasn’t been discussed enough. That’s when I want the trip.”
I surmise that most of the preparation will be done pre-game, and that the Cubs have game plans set up a la football play calling (yeah, I know, they’re different sports) where the first sequences are set in stone before allowing the battery to adjust in subsequent matchups. If the battery studies and knows the game plan, the mound visits shouldn’t be an issue. They also have time between innings to make sure everyone is on the same page, not just with the catcher and pitcher, but also with the various coaches in the dugout and bullpen to hammer home the game plan.
Maddon’s goal this season mirrors what we hypothesized:
“My concern is communication,” Maddon said. “And making sure we’re on the same page. Because our prep is so good. We have to utilize our trips for those moments.”
If there is a true cross-up or a need to switch up the signs during an inning in progress, then I imagine the visit will be used. Because infielder visits are also considered part of the limit, this will have to be between the catcher and pitcher to maximize utility of the visits.
This isn’t just a problem with the Cubs, as their division rivals are also starting to keep track of this new dynamic:
In addition to developing a signal from the field to get permission to visit the mound, the Cardinals and the catchers are going to install what Matheny called “universal signals” for spring training. This is a base group of signs that all pitchers can return to in the event they get crossed up – and the team doesn’t want waste the trip to the mound for the simple sign check.
If the Cardinals can figure this out, you have to think that the Cubs can, too. They have a month, and I’m sure they’re working on it as we speak.