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Aug. 22, 2017 - Source: Brian Blanco/Getty Images North America

Brett Borzelli

Baseball’s New Pace Of Play Rules: What You Need To Know

After much haggling, MLB and the player’s association have agreed on a number of changes to improve pace of play. These new rules take effect in 2018.

Spring training is finally here! Opening Day is fast approaching. Meanwhile, baseball has implemented new pace of play rules that go into effect this season.

Why Are Changes Needed?

For over a hundred years, the longest World Series game ever played lasted 14 innings. It occurred when the Boston Red Sox defeated the Brooklyn Robins 2-1 in Game 2 of the 1916 Fall Classic. Babe Ruth threw a complete game for the win. Sherry Smith also went the distance in suffering the tough-luck loss. The marathon lasted a grueling two hours and thirty-two minutes.

Fast forward to 2005, when Game 3 between the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox matched the Ruthian classic – in innings, that is. The time of the game was a whopping five hours and forty-one minutes. Sure, there was more scoring — the final was 7-5 — and a record 17 pitchers were used. But those of you who watched the game will recall that it dragged on at a snail’s pace from start to finish.

In the early twentieth century, Major League Baseball games almost always clocked in at under two hours. In fact, most were played in less than 90 minutes. Despite the rapid speed at which everything else moves in today’s world, MLB games have gotten progressively slower. Last season, the average time of game lagged to three hours and five minutes. That’s a new record high. It’s also an average. While plenty of games are played in under three hours, an ever-increasing number of nine-inning games are hitting the four-hour mark.

Shifting Priorities

Even though the commissioner has made improving pace of play a priority in recent years, the trend is still moving in the wrong direction. Games are getting longer and longer. Baseball wants to attract younger fans: millennials and their children. The brain trust feels that improving the pace of play is the way to do it.

It makes perfect sense. Baseball is a family event. The love of the game has always been passed down from generation to generation. But how can you expect parents to bring young children to the ballpark when games routinely stretch past 11 o’clock at night, local time? Keeping television viewers interested for four hours (or longer) is also problematic.

Aren’t baseball executives worried about alienating older fans? No. Why should they be? We grew up watching a much faster-paced game. I remember the joy of twi-night doubleheaders. You could go to the stadium, watch two games in five hours (with a break in between), and still be home at a decent hour. Those were the days.

Pace Of Play Changes For 2018

After much haggling, MLB and the player’s association have agreed on a number of changes to improve pace of play. These new rules take effect in 2018.

Here is Commissioner Rob Manfred’s statement:

“I am pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with the Players Association to take concrete steps to address pace of play with the cooperation of players. My strong preference is to continue to have ongoing dialogue with players on this topic to find mutually acceptable solutions.”

MLBPA chief Tony Clark‘s statement:

“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.”

Those two statements give you a sense of the negotiations, and why they settled on some of the compromises that were made. Let’s take a look at the pace of play changes that go into effect on Opening Day.

1. Mound Visits

  • Mound visits without a pitching change shall be limited to six (6) per team, per nine innings
  • For any extra-innings played, each club shall be entitled to one additional non-pitching change mound visit per inning

Definition of mound visit (regardless of location of meeting):

  • Manager or coach trip to the mound to visit with pitcher
  • Player leaving his position to confer with the pitcher (including catchers)
  • Pitcher leaving the mound to confer with another player

Not a mound visit:

  • Discussion between pitchers and position players in normal course of play that doesn’t cause players to relocate
  • Player cleaning spikes at mound during rainy conditions
  • Visits for injury or potential injury
  • Visits after announcement of offensive substitution

2. Inning Breaks And Pitching Changes

  • Commercial breaks for regular season games are :20 shorter than 2017
  • New break times: 2:05 local, 2:25 national, 2:55 tie-breaker and postseason
  • Timer for inning breaks will begin on last out of inning
  • Umpires shall direct players and enforce inning break and pitching change time limits on field
  • Umpires have the discretion to allow more time under special circumstances
  • Pitchers can now make as many warm-up throws as they like, within the time limit, but are no longer guaranteed eight

3. Video Replay Review Adjustments

  • Capability for all club video review rooms to receive direct slow-motion camera angles
  • New phone lines connecting the video review rooms and dugout (communication will be monitored)

4. Batter’s Box Rule

The rule that was in effect during the 2017 season will remain in effect during the 2018 season. It requires hitters to keep one foot in the box in between pitches. Although it has been in effect since 2015, it has not been strictly enforced. It is unclear whether it will be this season or not.

Penalties For Violations

Here’s where it gets interesting. There will be no automatic ball and strike penalties for violations. There has been onging discussions along those lines, but the two sides settled on off-field enforcement instead:

“Umpires shall direct players and enforce the inning break and pitching change time limits on the field. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline for just cause by the Office of the Commissioner pursuant to Article XI(C) of the Basic Agreement.”

This makes a lot of sense. Since players have never had to play with these rules, a soft implementation to allow them time to acclimate is definitely the smart way to go. Since improving pace of play is the goal, you don’t want the effort undermined by in-game arguments that ensue over ball and strike penalties. It will be interesting to see if on-field penalties are implemented later in the season.

Serious Changes

I think the shortening of commercial breaks gives us an indication of how serious ownership is about the pace of play initiative. That they are leaving television money on the table in order to speed up games speaks volumes.

The shortened commercial breaks alone will shave six minutes off of every game. The real savings, though, will be found in the limit on mound visits. How many times have we sat through multiple catcher conferences in one inning – or even within the same plate appearance?

Clearly, these changes won’t result in normal games being shortened to say, two hours. That would be a reach. Rather, the painfully long games that drag on and on for no reason will be much shorter. If this works as intended, the vast majority of nine-inning games should be played in under three hours.

For those wondering about a pitch clock, those discussions have been tabled for a later date. But the pitch clock is coming, sooner than later. It has been in effect for years in the minors, so an increasing number of players are already accustomed to it. When that rule finally gets adopted at the major league level, it will eliminate the yawn-inducing ritual that some pitchers have of walking around the mound endlessly in between pitches. For now, though, we can be grateful that serious changes to pace of play are indeed coming to MLB games in 2018.

Main Photo: Aug. 22, 2017 – Source: Brian Blanco/Getty Images North America

Brett Borzelli writes about the New York Yankees on Pinstripe Alley and Baseknock MLB. He is a member of the IBWAA. You may peruse his Baseknock MLB articles by clicking here.

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