Thursday, November 16, 2017

Rob Manfred Vows Pace of Play Rules Changes for 2018

Speaking at an owner's meeting, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred indicated pace of play rules changes are coming in 2018, with or without support from the player's association, though he prefers MLBPA's sign-off.

MiLB's pitch clock is coming.
The Arizona Fall League is presently testing several pace of play-related rules. Here's a look at the AFL rules tests from the 2016 and 2017 October-November seasons.

2016 Arizona Fall League Pace of Play Initiatives:
In 2016, MLB tested the following pace-of-play rule modifications during the Arizona Fall League. Those adopted by MLB for the 2017 season are indicated by an asterisk (*); those adopted by Minor League Baseball are indicated by a caret (^):
> 2:15 Inning Break and 2:25 Pitching Change Timers^, beginning at the third out or call to the pen.
> Batter's Box Rule^*, requiring the batter keep a foot in the box absent exceptions (repeat of 2014/15).
> 15-Second Pitch Clock^, during which the pitcher must begin his motion or come set (penalty: ball).
> 35 Seconds Between Batters Timer, beginning as soon as the prior play concludes (same penalty).
> 30 Second Mound Visit Timer^, at which time coaches and teammates must vacate the mound.
> Three "Time Out" Rule, capping "Time" conferences at three per game, per team (repeat of 2014/15).
^Note: some MiLB adoptions were not MiLB-wide, but league specific (e.g., the FSL or A-ball).
*Other adoptions appeared during previous AFLs (e.g., the no-pitch intentional walk - 2014 AFL)
Pitch Clock Penalties: If the pitcher fails to begin his pitching position within 20 seconds, the umpire shall call a ball. If the batter steps out of the box without authorization at any time during the 20-second countdown, the pitcher may pitch the ball for a called strike.

2017 Arizona Fall League Pace of Play Initiatives:
> 2:15 Inning Break Clock, a repeat of the 2016 experiment (in 2014, for instance, it was 2:05).
> 12-Second Pitch Clock with No Runners On Base, down from 15 seconds in 2016.
> 15-Second Pitch Clock with Runners on Base, identical to the 2016 experimental rule.
> 30 Seconds Between Batters, which is five seconds fewer than the 2016 AFL rule.
> 30 Second Mound Visit Timer, same as the 2016 provision.
> Extra-Inning Runner, beginning in the 10th inning, and placing a runner at second base prior to the inning's commencement (the runner is the player who immediately precedes the lead-off batter).

Some AFL 'ideas' already exist in OBR...
Some of these "experiments," such as the 2016 AFL's batter's box rule, already exist in the Official Baseball Rules. For instance, existing Rule 5.04(b)(4)(A) states, "The batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout the batter’s time at bat, unless one of the following exceptions applies, in which case the batter may leave the batter’s box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate." The exceptions listed in OBR (swing, bunt, check swing appeal, forced off balance by a pitch, "Time" called, pickoff/play at a base, pitcher leaves mound, catcher leaves box, wild pitch, passed ball) correspond precisely to the exceptions indicated by the 2016 AFL rule.

...They're just not enforced in MLB.
Similarly, in 2017, the 12-second pitch clock with no runners on base corresponds to existing Official Baseball Rule 5.07(c), Pitcher Delays, which states, "When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call 'Ball.'" Again, the rule already exists, but it appears MLB, and AFL, is simply trying to strictly enforce it.

Here's an example of the issue with 12-second violation enforcement: 2B Umpire Doug Eddings, using his stopwatch, attempted to apply the rule in 2007 against Cleveland, calling pitcher Rafael Betancourt for an automatic ball for taking longer than 12 seconds to deliver a 0-2 pitch to batter Carlos Guillen with no runners on base in the 8th inning. Then-Indians Manager Eric Wedge ran out of the dugout and vehemently argued the call with Eddings, resulting a delay much longer than 12 seconds.

Undeterred, Eddings would later call Betancourt for another 12-second violation in the 9th inning.

Said umpire supervisor Jim McKean, "It wastes more time if you call it than if you don't call it, because as soon as you call it you've got a full-scale argument...the clubs will complain."

Baseball hopes that by putting the time on stadium-wide pitch clocks visible to all participants, an umpire's enforcement of the pace of play rules will become less controversial.


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