New Rules, New Year: Major League Baseball’s Pace-of-Play

 

IMG_9227 By: Chip Payne

Major League Baseball (MLB) has been stated as America’s Pastime, but in recent years, the National Football League (NFL) has taken that top spot.  Recently, top executives for Major League Baseball have begun to implement rules that could change the game forever to hopefully retake their top spot on the podium.  Since I was five years old, I have had a passion for the game of baseball. Following the game of baseball, whether it’s watching it on television or in person, baseball has always been apart of my life.  On the other hand, many of my friends and peers find displeasure in watching baseball because of the pace of the game.  In fact, managers and coaches have been voicing their opinions by saying that the crispness and flow of the game is much different than it was 3-5 years ago. Major League Baseball has not only listened to its managers, but the fans as well.  Just this past year Major League Baseball implemented a new policy regarding the pace of the game at the Double, Triple A, and Major League levels of play.

One of the biggest changes fans will see is the use of a game clock to establish a pace of play to make games quicker for all audiences alike.  For example, just this past season in Major League Baseball, executives decided to set up a new rule that would help to promote a quicker pace of game.  According to an article posted last year on ESPN.com;

“The rules include mandating that managers stay in the dugout during replay challenges, that hitters keep at least one foot in the batter’s box during at-bats, a prompt return to play after TV commercial breaks and timed pitching changes. (ESPN.com)”

These rules are just the beginning of what Major League Baseball is trying to do.  Even though the new rules were implemented during spring training for the 2015 season, fines and warnings were not implemented until May after the season is off and running.

Many proponents of the new rules are in favor of speeding up the pace of game to allow for a more enjoyable viewing experience, but what many people fail to realize is the changes that it can have on the players themselves.  For example, former Major League player and now commentator, Nomar Garciaparra was famous for his ritual every time he stepped out of the batter’s box, but with the new rules in place, Nomar wouldn’t be allowed to step completely out of the batter’s box.  This could present new challenges for players like Nomar who would be forced to change their actions in the batter’s box.   Even though Nomar has long since retired, many current professional players face similar challenges, such as Pablo Sandoval, who is not only known for being a power hitter, but also his actions at the plate.

On the other hand, the MLB is trying to take professional baseball into the 21st century with these new rule changes.  Since many of us live fast paced lives, it can be difficult to sit down for three plus hours to enjoy your favorite team.  In fact, statistics presented by Yahoo Sports show that in 1984 the average time of a Major League Baseball Game was 2 hours and 40 min and in 2014 that average time had jumped almost 30 min to 3 hours and 8 minutes (Oz, 2015).  With the start of spring training for many teams right around the corner, there is no better time than now to discuss these rule changes and why I believe they are beneficial for the future of Major League Baseball.

Major League Baseball is proposing many new rules to help alleviate the problem with the length of games, which can get fairly complicated. Here is an overview of the new rules proposed by Major League Baseball according to an article posted on mlb.com.

  1. The 20 second rule: this rule states that “a pitcher shall be allowed 20 seconds to throw each pitch.” The batter must be in the box prepared for the pitch during the entire 20-second period.” (mlb.com)
  2. Batter’s Box Rule: this rule states that when a batter takes a pitch, the batter must keep one foot inside the batter’s box at all times. This applies to batters receiving play calls from coaches.
  3. No-Pitch Intentional Walks: if a team wants to intentionally walk a player, the manager will simply signal to the umpire by use of four fingers and no pitches will be thrown.
  4. Inning Break Clock: in between each inning there will be no more than 2 minutes and 30 seconds allowed.
  5. Pitching Change: there will be a maximum of 2 minutes and 30 seconds for a pitching change.
  6. “Time Out”: each team will be allowed only 3 “time-outs” during a game and this includes extra innings.

All of these rules were implemented by Major League Baseball last season (2015) at the Double A and Triple A levels of play in order to test their effectiveness.

In regards to the “20-second” rule, Major League Baseball already has a rule know as “rule 8.04,” which states that pitchers have 12 seconds in between each pitch.  The major difference here is that with the new rule, there would be a big clock placed somewhere behind home plate.  Even though some may argue that having the clock there is not necessary, if you think about it in terms of the play clock in the National Football League or a shot clock in the National Basketball Association, it makes sense.  Having the clock present allows players to be held accountable for the time they take in between each pitch, just as the quarterback or shooter does in between each play or shot.

If you follow professional baseball religiously like I do, you know that baseball players are very superstitious.  In an article by the Bleacher Report, author Jay Brennan mentions many of the superstitions and rituals that individual players or teams have.  For example, on the larger scale, The Curse of the Bambino, or just something as simple as David Ortiz spitting on the right hand of his batting glove; players and teams have become accustom to these rituals.  By not allowing players to step out of the batter’s box completely, Major League Baseball is taking away those rituals that they hold so dearly.  Even though the players will adjust to the rule change, the fans might not.  The fans who attend a professional baseball game look forward to seeing their favorite player or team play and along with that comes those specific rituals. Therefore, this rule to me is one that needs to be examined further by the MLB.

On the other hand, I am in favor of the new intentional walk rule, which allows managers to signal to the umpire if the batter is going to be intentionally walked.  If you are not going to pitch to him then just send him on his way and let’s get the next guy up there.  Intentional walks do not happen too often during a Major League game, for example, one of the best hitters this past season [2015], Bryce Harper batted 521 times and was only intentionally walked 15 times.  The pace of the game would drastically change if they [MLB] would just let him take his base.  It would also reduce the chance of an accidental wild pitch that could score a potential winning run, and therefore end up on Sportscenter’s “Not Top 10.”

The next two rules regarding the time between innings and pitching changes are two that I foresee having success at the professional level.  Typically, if a viewer is watching on TV or listening to a game on the radio, the station will go to a commercial break during a pitching change or inning change.  These commercials only last two to three minutes anyway, therefore, the 2 minute and 30 second rule is one that is fair for players and managers alike.  These two rules along with the “time-out” rule could significantly reduce the time of the game.

Many of the new rules that Major League Baseball is proposing will allow for shorter games, which according to current Major Leaguer, Chase Headley, “is a good thing.”  Headly doesn’t know if speeding up the game will attract fans or turn fans away, but nonetheless, he states “cutting slack time, is a good thing.”  Out of all the rules that the MLB is trying to implement, I believe that the two rules regarding inning change and pitching change would be the most beneficial.  Once the new pitcher enters the field to head to the mound, more often than not he has already spent the last 10 to 20 minutes warming up in the bullpen.  I believe that MLB should give the new pitcher a maximum of 5 pitches to get acclimated to the new mound and then let’s get rolling.  This will help overall to speed the pace of the game up significantly.

Statistics show that these new rules are working by reducing the average game time; therefore, it’s only a matter of time before the rules make their way from the minor leagues into big league play.  I for one am excited to see where the future of baseball is heading and would appreciate a much shorter game time.

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