Pace of Play Remains a Top Concern
By: Eric Ransom
Major League Baseball has officially unveiled a number of rule changes to be enforced in time for the 2018 season.
Some of the more impactful changes will be a new limit on mound visits in a nine inning game (six), as well as shortened commercial breaks and a timer on relief pitchers entering a game.
Since Rob Manfred took over as Commissioner in 2013, pace of play has become the most pressing issue to the game of baseball, as many factors have led to slower, tedious games. Faster games like basketball and football have surged in popularity over the last decade over baseball, and the slower speed of baseball is a contributing factor.
The length of baseball games has become more of an issue than ever before.
According to Sports Illustrated, as of the end of the 2017 season, games reached an average record high of three hours and five minutes, a five minute increase from last season. MLB officials have speculated that instant replay may have a large factor in the longer games.
Since instant replay was fully implemented, the quantity and length of time for reviews has practically left baseball at a standstill, scrambling for ways to compensate and compete with the other major sports.
Despite this, instant replays and umpire reviews actually decreased during the 2017 season.
The biggest question heading into this season was whether Manfred would initiate a pitch clock, limiting the amount of time in between pitches that a pitcher is allotted, similar to a shot clock in basketball.
In the minor leagues, the pitch clock is utilized, leading many to believe that it would soon follow in the big leagues.
This will not be the case.
The Major League Baseball Players Association, a union that upholds the rights of the players, disagreed with the MLB on the original plan of a pitch clock, arguing over how many seconds between pitches there should be.
In January, it seemed likely the pitch clock idea would go through, until the MLBPA officially rejected the proposal. Eventually, new pace of play proposals were created in order to satisfy both sides. In return for the MLBPA accepting new pace of play rules, the pitch clock idea would be abandoned.
Manfred officially announced this deal in February to be enacted for the upcoming 2018 season.
The mound visit rule will be the most impactful change, where only six visits to the pitcher are allowed, both for players and coaches. Extra-inning games will allot one extra mound visit each.
Normally, catchers could approach the mound with no restrictions, often bringing the contest to a snail’s pace. With the limit, catchers will need to strategically determine when visiting the mound is most important. This could have a major impact on late-inning situations and close games, directly affecting how the pitcher can escape a dangerous situation.
Along with the mound visit cap, commercial breaks will now have a new protocol to follow. For local games, breaks will now be shortened to 2:05, with a 20 second increase for nationally televised games and a 50 second increase during playoff games.
Also, the batter’s box rule will remain in effect from last year, in which a hitter cannot fully step out of the batter’s box between pitches.
Tony Clark, president of the MLBPA, issued a statement on the agreement.
“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.”
Whether or not a pitch clock will eventually be installed, a number of players voice their opinions on the idea.
Indians relief pitcher Andrew Miller said of the pitch clock, “A lot of players, myself included, are not fans of the pitch clock. This isn’t something we’re trying to pick a fight on. It’s more just how you get there.”
Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale, however, seemed to approve of a pitch clock.
“I don’t think players want to be there for three and a half hours, fans don’t want to be there for three and a half hours and umpires don’t want to be there for three and a half hours… I’m a fan of it, but I don’t speak for everybody on that.”
In all, with baseball falling behind the more captivating sports like football and basketball, Commissioner Manfred certainly has his work cut out for him. Only time can tell if these new pace of play rules will work properly this season.