Wednesday, October 1, 2014

MLB to Test Pace of Game Proposals at Arizona Fall League

MLB's Pace of Game Committee tapped the 2014 Arizona Fall League as its playground for experimental pace of game initiatives, allowing the AFL to serve a similar role as real-world laboratory that it did for expanded instant replay review in 2013. According to the Pace of Game Committee's plan, the following initiatives will be rolled out come November in the AFL:

>> Batter's Box Rule [OBR 6.02(d)]: MLB is effectively looking to adopt the National Association Leagues (Minor League Baseball)'s Rule 6.02(d) for Major League play, requiring the batter to keep at least one foot in the batter's box throughout his entire time at bat, unless (i) the batter swings at the pitch, (ii) the batter is forced out of the batter's box by a pitch, (iii) a member of either team requests and is granted "Time," (iv) a defensive player attempts a play on a runner at any base, (v) the batter feints a bunt, (vi) a wild pitch or passed ball occurs, (vii) the pitcher leaves the dirt area of the pitching mound after receiving the ball, or (viii) the catcher leaves the catcher's box to give defensive signals. The penalty for unauthorized exit from the batter's box is a dead ball strike.

>> No-Pitch Intentional Walk: Hoping to eliminate time wasted, and assuming that MLB pitchers are accurate, managers will signal to the umpire with four fingers when he wishes to intentionally walk a batter. Instead of throwing four balls, the batter will simply be awarded first base without seeing any pitches. This proposal effectively eliminates the catcher's balk.

>> 20-Second Rule: Not-withstanding Doug Eddings' controversially correct 2007 enforcement of the 12-second pitcher's Rule 8.04, all games at Salt River Fields will feature synchronized 20-second clocks in the outfield, both dugouts and behind home plate operated by a third party whose purpose shall be to start the clock when the pitcher receives the ball, regardless of whether the batter is in the box or otherwise ready to play (albeit, the clock starts when the batter is alert to the pitcher for the first pitch of the AB only). After a foul, the clock begins when the umpire puts the ball in play. Penalties: If the pitcher fails to begin his pitching position within 20 seconds, the umpire shall call a ball. If the batter steps out or fails to appear in the box at any time during the 20-second countdown, the pitcher may pitch the ball for a called strike.

>> 2:05 Inning Break & 2:30 Pitching Change Break Clocks: The only difference from previous timing rules is that if the batter fails to enter the box by the 1:45 mark, the umpire may call an automatic strike. Likewise, if the batter is ready and the pitcher fails to throw a pitch by the 2:05 mark, the umpire shall call a ball (2:05 is 20 seconds after 1:45, see the 20-second rule). Insofar as the 2:30 pitching change rule is concerned, the time from the new pitcher crossing the warning track or foul line from the bullpen until the first pitch is thrown, no more than 2:30 may elapse (penalty: ball).

>> Three "Time Out" Limit: Baseball wants to institute conference provisions similar to lower level regulations. Each time will be allowed only three "time out" conferences per game, inclusive of any extra innings which might be played. This includes the catcher going out to conference with the pitcher, manager or coach mound visits and offensive/base coach conferences with a batter. Pitching change, injury and other emergency time out conferences will not count toward this three "time out" limit. The penalty for a fourth conference is a warning not to engage in the fourth conference, but the game is to continue uninterrupted ("offenders may be subject to discipline").

-- Instant Replay Review: Though not technically part of the Pace of Game Committee's plan, MLB will experiment with offseason replay review tweaks during the 17 home games at Salt River Fields (including connectivity to New York's MLBAM Replay Operations Center). Replay's scope, initiation, time limits and similar procedures will be under the gun.


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