Major League Baseball is once again using the Arizona Fall League to test potential new rules. The focus this season is on maintaining an adequate pace of the game. MLB quietly made the announcement via a Press Release on October 1, and the following potential rules were developed by the newly announced (9/22) Pace of Game Committee.
Call to the Pen
The experimental pace of game rules will be in place for all Arizona Fall League game and will include:
BATTER’S BOX RULE: The batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout his at-bat, unless one of a series of established exceptions occurs, in which case the batter may leave the batter’s box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate. (Exceptions include a foul ball or a foul tip; a pitch forcing the batter out of the batter’s box; “time” being requested and granted; a wild pitch or a passed ball; and several others)
MY STANCE: This is actually a rule I can get behind. One of the bigger complaints during the game is a batter who has not swung his bat steps out of the box to adjust his batting glove(s) or tap his cleats with the tip of his bat. I understand that some of these things are done out of habit or superstitions and not out of necessity. I also understand that sometimes a batter steps out of the box to either throw the pitcher off or because the pitcher is taking to long (I will get to that later), but I’m very pleased with this and am looking forward to see if this comes into effect next season. My only wish before it becomes a rule is that the “several others exceptions” will be more defined.
NO-PITCH INTENTIONAL WALKS: In the event a team decides to intentionally walk a batter, no pitches shall be thrown. Instead, the manager shall signal to the home plate umpire with four fingers, and the batter should proceed to first base to become a runner.
MY STANCE: I see what they are trying to do here and I get why in theory this sounds like a good idea. But, it is not a good idea. This could drastically change a game, and I’m not talking about it’s pace either. Rather, I’m talking about it changing the score of a game. Need an example? Take Tuesday’s NLDS game.
The bases were loaded with San Francisco Giants’ Pablo Sandoval at the plate. Washington Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett was set to intentionally walk Sandoval. When Barrett threw ball four he completely missed, sending the ball past catcher Wilson Ramos and into the backstop. Giants catcher Buster Posey was on third and raced to home plate. Although he was eventually ruled out and the Giants were already ahead by one run, that could have been a game-changer in any game.
This is one rule I hope does not pan out.
20-SECOND RULE [AT 17 SALT RIVER FIELDS HOME GAMES ONLY]: A modified version of Rule 8.04. The penalty prescribed by Rule 8.04 for a pitcher’s violation of the Rule is that the umpire shall call “Ball.”
*The modifications are lengthy, so I’m going to paraphrase.*
In the AFL games a clock will be displayed in both dugouts, behind home plate, and in the outfield. The pitcher is allowed 20 seconds to throw each pitch, and the batter must be in the box during the entire 20-second period. If the batter steps out of the box the pitcher can still pitch and the umpire will call a strike, unless he granted time first. The clock will begin when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and will stop only when the pitcher begins his motion to deliver the ball. Beginning the motion of coming to the set position will be sufficient to stop the clock. If the pitcher has possession of the ball without beginning his pitching motion for more than 20 seconds, the Umpire will call “Ball.”
MY STANCE: Let me be very clear, I think this is an absurd way of trying to get the game finished in a “reasonable” amount of time. Here’s the thing, pitchers have enough to think about when the bases are empty. Can you imagine a pitcher being effective with a runner on base? The pitcher has to agree to a sign given by his catcher. Some catchers have to get the sign from the skipper and then relay that to his pitcher. Sometimes, there is a last second change and the pitcher needs to throw to first. I’m not saying the pitcher should be given all the time in the world to set and deliver, because he shouldn’t. However, 20 seconds doesn’t seem to me a reasonable amount of time to be an effective pitcher.
2:05 INNING BREAK CLOCK: There shall be a maximum 2:05 break between innings. Hitters must enter the batter’s box by the 1:45 mark. When batters violate this rule, the Umpire may call an automatic strike. When batters are set by the appropriate time and pitchers fail to throw a pitch before the conclusion of the 2:05 period, the Umpire shall call a ball.
2:30 PITCHING CHANGE BREAK CLOCK: There shall be a maximum 2:30 break for pitching changes, including pitching changes that occur during an inning break. The first pitch must be thrown before the conclusion of the 2:30 period or the umpire shall call a ball. The clock shall start when the new pitcher enters the playing field (i.e., crosses the warning track, or foul line).
THREE “TIME OUT” LIMIT: Each team shall be permitted only three “Time Out” conferences per game (including extra innings). Such conferences shall include player conferences with the pitcher (including the catcher), manager or coach conferences with the pitcher, and coach conferences with a batter. Conferences during pitching changes, and time outs called as a result of an injury or other emergency, shall not be counted towards this limit. A manager, coach or player will not be permitted to call a fourth time out in violation of this Rule. In such cases, the game will continue uninterrupted, and offenders may be subject to discipline.
MY STANCE: My only concern with the last three rules is the “time out” limit. Giving each team three “Time Out” conferences seems sufficient, except that includes extra innings. Let’s think about this for a minute. When a ballgame goes into free baseball there tends to be a few more conferences between batterymates. I think that MLB should grant at least one extra “time out” once the game goes into extra innings. Can you imagine what would happen if another game went to 18 innings and a manager/coach/catcher couldn’t visit with his pitcher without being “subject to discipline,” whatever that may be?
In the press release Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said:
"The Pace of Game Committee is eager to test various ideas – ranging from the incremental to the dramatic – in order to learn more, and we are fortunate to have a setting in which we can do exactly that. We will work with the appropriate parties – including players, umpires, our partners, our fans and many other contributors to our game – to form effective pace of game recommendations that will fit the Major League level.”"
I, too, am excited to see some of these changes. Like the batter’s box clock. I even think the pitcher’s clock could work if they give them more than 20 seconds. I appreciate what Selig and the Pace of Game Committee are attempting to accomplish. They want fans, new and old, to feel that the game is exciting and moving at a quick enough pace to keep everyone engaged. I’ll admit that some games do make me wish the players would hurry up.
However, I feel with the changes made this season (Instant Replay and Collision Rule 7.13) and the potential of any one of these timesaving rules MLB is changing too many aspects of the game too quickly. And, instead of keeping fans they just might do the opposite and lose some.
Commissioner Selig said “We will work with….our fans….to form effective pace of game recommendations….”
Well, I’m a fan, where can I send recommendations?