During the 2017 season, the average length of a nine-inning major-league baseball game was three hours, five minutes and 11 seconds—an increase of 4 ½ minutes over the average nine-inning game in 2016.
Is this a disturbing trend? To baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, it is, and he has the authority to mandate changes in the rules governing pace of play. To his credit, however, he spent weeks negotiating changes with the MLB Players Association and finally forged an agreement acceptable to both parties.
Subsequently the commissioner stated, “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 the players to find mutually acceptable solutions.”
MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark responded, “Players were involved in the pace-of-game discussion from day one and are committed to playing a crisp and exciting brand of baseball for the fans, but they remain concerned about rule changes that could alter the outcome of games and the fabric of the game itself.”
So, what’s up? First of all, there will be no pitch clock. Each team will be limited to six mound visits in nine innings, plus one additional mound visit for every extra inning played. If a manager or coach goes to the mound, it’s a visit. If a catcher goes to the mound, it’s a visit. If an infielder goes to the mound, that counts as a visit. A second visit to the mound by a manager in the same inning requires a pitching change. A reliever will have two minutes and five seconds from the time he enters the field of play to get to the mound and prepare to throw his first pitch. Finally, the umpire will have discretion to allow extra visits due to injury or game conditions.
Breaks for commercials will be shorter. The clock starts immediately after the final out of an inning. In regular season games, the break will be 2:05. In nationally televised games, it will be 2:25. With 25 seconds remaining, the umpire will direct the pitcher to complete his warm-up pitches. With 20 seconds remaining, the batter is announced and must enter the batter’s box. At 0 seconds, the pitcher must deliver a pitch to the batter.
Are there penalties involved? There will be no automatic balls or strikes awarded, but individual players can be fined for violations. That should be interesting.
Also, there are changes to the video replay-review process and the technology involved, which I’ll cover in a future column.
Will these changes make a difference in the way the game is played? The rule changes are in effect for spring-training games that are underway. Let ‘em play ball and we’ll see.
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