Dissecting Major League Baseball's new 'Pace of Game' rules
College Contributor Network
There used to be a time in Major League Baseball when a family could enjoy a game (sometimes even two) in the same amount of time it would take to get through The Dark Knight Rises.
Now, by the time John Blake is revealed as the heir apparent to the Caped Crusader (spoiler), a game may still be only in the seventh inning.
Baseball has an epidemic. And now, it's looking for the antidote.
Major League Baseball approved six new "pace of game" rules for testing in this year's Arizona Fall League that the league hopes will make their way into the main circuit. The reason? Speed up the game to ensure that people have a desire to attend a game without the prospect of becoming obscenely bored.
While each rule provides its own merits, it is imperative to dissect each one with careful scrutiny, as every fan does, to determine if they are practical.
The following rule descriptions were taken from Major League Baseball's official press release issued Wednesday. Let's begin.
The batter's box
New 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.)"
This one is a no-brainer for Major League Baseball to adapt, regardless of how it is tested in the Arizona Fall League. A batter can waste between 10 and 15 seconds just pacing around outside the batter's box, staring into section 147 and pondering how much money those fans handed over to spend three hours or more constantly updating their Facebook news feed to see how many "likes" the photo of their dog's Coach-branded pink collar received.
Interestingly enough, this one may not actually fall on players and may be more of a reflection on the umpires. After some research, I found Rule 6.02 of the official Major League Baseball rulebook stating the following:
"Umpires may grant a hitter's request for time once he is in the batter's box, but the umpire should eliminate hitters walking out of the batter's box without reason. If umpires are not lenient, batters will understand that they are in the batter's box and they must remain there until the ball is pitched."
So perhaps, when all is said and done, it isn't the player's fault when he looks over at section 147. He does it because the umpire lets him. If this new rule can be enforced though, it will undoubtedly aid in speeding up at-bats, with the only excuse for a long at-bat now being at the behest of a hitter's great eye.
The pitch clock
New rule: "A modified version of Rule 8.04, which discourages unnecessary delays by the pitcher, shall apply. Rule 8.04 requires the pitcher to deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball with the bases unoccupied. The penalty prescribed by Rule 8.04 for a pitcher's violation of the Rule is that the umpire shall call 'ball.'"
A pitch clock in baseball has been long needed, despite there already supposedly being guidelines in place for this.
My question: How will an umpire accurately enforce this clock when his eyes are supposed to be watching a pitcher's movements and everything else going on the field? Will this clock be in play when runners are on? If so, shouldn't he be looking to see if the pitcher balks?
It will be one that works as long as it is enforced, but I'm not so sure there is a way to do so unless another umpire or official is added and assigned to strictly watch this. Or, this could happen.
New rule: "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."
Baseball strikes against television?! I didn't see this one coming, though it definitely could be serviceable. But once more, this one boils down to who is accountable for enforcing it? Does an umpire wait for the full time limit to pass to see if both the hitter and pitcher aren't ready? Does the count go to 1-1 at that point? Does he make a dramatic, Brick Tamland-style proclamation that one is not ready?
Does he even have a watch?
New rule: "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)."
A fair rule that should be fairly easy to enforce. Again, though, if a runner is on-base, shouldn't the umpire be a little more concerned about watching the pitcher's movement and motions once he is ready to throw, rather than be concerned about an expiring clock?
Nonetheless, this one is practical, and should definitely speed things up. After all, they have the bullpen in which to fully warm up.
New rule: "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."
"Time out conference" is code word for mound visit. This is another reasonable change that should definitely be adopted into the big leagues. It is easy to keep track of, and would prevent stalling for the sake of warming up a pitcher. A manager needs to be on top of the game's situation, so stalling just to warm up a pitcher shouldn't be something with leniency given.
New rule: "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."
The intentional walk is equivalent to the PAT in football. And unless the pitcher is John Carney or Miguel Cabrera is at-bat, it doesn't need four actual pitches.
The reality? According to Businessweek, the average age of a baseball fan watching last year's World Series was 54. Baseball needs to find a way to attract the younger fan with the shorter attention span, and the proposed new rules are certainly a step in the right direction.
Hopefully, the rules make it past the AFL and into the big leagues. But from there, they are in the hands of a new commissioner, one hoping to usher in a new era.
Jon Alba is a senior at Quinnipiac University. There he serves as general manager of the school's television station, Q30 Television. Follow him on Twitter: @JonAlbaSFC