Over the past decade, the average time to complete a 9-inning game in the MLB has risen by 15 minutes (2:50 to 3:05). If you are a die-hard fan and watch every regular season game for your favorite team, that amounts to an extra 2,430 minutes per season (40.5 hours) throughout the season. In a technology and social media driven world, slowing down an already slow sport is a recipe for failure short and long-term, especially among the younger generations or fans. Rob Manfred, MLB Commissioner, is aware of this problem and has been working this off-season to create and implement rule changes for the upcoming season in order to speed up the game.
On Monday, the MLB announced these new pace-of-play rule changes for the 2018 season and to say they were underwhelming would be too generous. For all the talk and ideas being thrown around this off-season, from bullpen carts to pitch clocks, the actual changes are a joke and will likely amount to little or no overall change in the length of games. Let’s take a look at the new rules and how/if they will/can be enforced.
Each team will be limited to six per nine innings. Any manager, coach or player visit to the mound will count as a mound visit, except if there is a pitching change. Visits to the mound to clean cleats in rainy weather, to check on an injury or potential injury or after the announcement of an offensive substitution are excepted. If a team is out of visits, the umpire will have discretion to grant a visit at the catcher’s request if he believes there has been a cross-up between the pitcher and catcher. Teams will receive an additional visit for every extra inning played.
I don’t have any hard scientific evidence to prove my point, but I can’t see this rule saving more than 30 seconds to a minute per game. Let’s dig in just a little… As a manager, most of my mound visits are pitching changes, which don’t count against my total: no change. Pitching coaches commonly visit the mound following a pinch-hitter being announced, which are excluded from the 6 visit limit: no change. Pitching coaches and trainers often visit the mound to check on a pitcher if there is believed to be a potential injury, which are also excluded: no change. So essentially, this maybe eliminates 1 or 2 catcher visits to the mound per game, each being 30 seconds total.
The best part of this rule is the enforcement. It’s the umpire’s discretion to allow a visit or not after a team has reached their 6 max and can do anything, up to ejecting the player, if the rule is violated. Vague much? If you are going to have a rule, set a real and legitimate consequence, like having to replace the pitcher or an automatic ball added to the count. The best part about a vague enforcement policy? More time will be spent arguing over if there were actually 6 mound visits and in turn, will likely negate any time advantage, or even lengthen the game.
As has been the case since the start of the 2016 season, a timer will count down between innings from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised games, from 2:25 in nationally televised games and from 2:55 for tiebreaker and postseason games. The difference now is that at the 25-second mark, the umpire will signal for the final warmup pitch and the pitcher must throw it before the clock hits 20. The batter will be announced at the 20-second mark and the pitcher must begin his windup to throw the first pitch of the inning within the five seconds before the clock hits zero. A pitcher is no longer guaranteed eight warmup pitches between innings. However, he can take as many as he wants within the countdown parameters noted above. The timer will start on the last out of the inning, unless the pitcher is on base, on deck or at bat, in which case the timer shall begin when the pitcher leaves the dugout for the mound. If the final out of the inning is subject to replay, the timer begins when the umpire signals the out.
Another gem. “As has been the case since the start of the 2016 season, a time will count down between innings…” So that remains the same, no change. The change is that a pitcher has to throw their last warm-up pitch before 20 seconds left on the clock, isn’t guaranteed 8 warm-up pitches, and has to throw the didst pitch of the inning with 5 seconds left on the clock. REALLY? That’s the extent of the rule change to “speed up the game.” If every half an inning and during pitching changes this actually speeds up warm-ups, it saves between 5-10 seconds, which frankly I think is incredibly generous. This saves a total of 2 minutes per game, assuming pitchers were all delaying the game previously. Beyond that, and I feel like a broken record here, what is the enforcement if a pitcher disregards the clock? Another thrilling solution with concrete consequences.
All club video review rooms will now receive direct slow-motion camera angles in order to speed up challenges and the resulting review. New phone lines will connect the rooms to the dugout and will be monitored to prevent their use for sign stealing.
Is this actually a new rule? The MLB didn’t have slow-motion replay before this year? The MLB didn’t have control over their phone lines to the replay office before now? I honestly don’t know what to do with this. Needless to say, this saves no time and in no way speeds up the game.
Upon review, these new rule changes are a absolute joke. If the MLB was going to unilaterally implement new pace-of-play rules this year, then they should have actually implemented things that save time throughout the game. By my calculations, in the most ideal of settings and without any discussion or arguments over the enforcement of these new rules (which we know will happen), the MLB has saved 2-3 minutes off the 3 hour and 5 minute pace from 2017, which was 4 and a half minutes longer than 2016. So essentially, the MLB implemented sweeping rule changes that likely won’t even return the game to pre-2017 speed. Nothing to see here.