Friday, January 19, 2018

Players Reject Pace of Play Proposal, Override Probable

Although the Major League Baseball Players Association rejected his latest pace-of-play proposal, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred may nonetheless overrule the MLBPA and introduce pitch clock rules for the 2018 season without the union's support, thanks to a CBA rule that allows the Commissioner to play hardball.

MLB may receive new pitch clock rules.
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB owners and the MLBPA, the Clubs (which are led by Commissioner Manfred) are empowered to implement rules changes in one of two ways: A) With the players' consent, or B) without it.

If an agreement is reached with MLBPA) The rules may be changed for the upcoming season pursuant to the terms of that agreement; or,
If no agreement is reached with MLBPA) The rules may be changed without player consent as long as the Clubs wait one entire season before implementing the new, not-agreed-to rules.

Article XIII of the MLBPA's Basic Agreement states:
If the Clubs and the Association fail to reach agreement on a proposed change which is subject to negotiation, the proposed change shall not be put into effect until the completion of the next complete succeeding season (including the Wild Card Game, Division Series, League Championship Series and World Series) following the date the change was proposed.
Time is running out on limitless baseball.
In other words, this all goes back to the preceding offseason (2016-17), when the MLBPA rejected the Commissioner's proposed pace-of-play changes regarding pitch clocks and the like. Now that a full season and postseason has passed, the Commissioner has the authority to impose these same circa 2016-17 proposals, essentially overriding the players' veto.

To illustrate this principle, consider the Arizona Fall League, MLB's self-described testing ground for pace of play and other rules change initiatives. The 2014 AFL tested a concept called "no-pitch intentional walks," in which a batter would be awarded first base with no pitches thrown if the defense simply wanted to add a baserunner. The 2014 AFL also introduced a 20-second pitch clock.
Related PostMLB to Test Pace of Game Proposals at Arizona Fall League (10/1/14).

Though the 2015 and 2016 seasons retained the traditional intentional walk, Manfred's crew eliminated the practice ahead of the 2017 season, while decrying "a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA." Thus, the no-pitch intentional walk rules change was implemented in the majors over a year removed from its first appearance in the laboratory fall league.
Related PostFour-Pitch Intentional Walk, Potential Flubs, Abolished (2/22/17).

Manfred is authorized to overrule the MLBPA.
The 2016 Arizona Fall League experimented with a 15-second pitch clock and additional timers for other game situations (35 seconds between batters and 30 seconds for mound visits). The 2016 AFL also experimented with a three mound visit/conference limit per team, per game.

This is all in addition to Minor League Baseball's use of pitch clocks, which have existed in one form or another since well before the 2017 offseason. MiLB does not have a bartering partner as formidable as the MLBPA.

At a November 2017 owner's meeting, Manfred all but assured baseball's brass that pace of play rules changes will be implemented in time for the 2018 regular season, with or without MLBPA support. The changes are owner-friendly and corporate hopes it will help the brand—from the big prize of keeping fans engaged with on-field action to smaller fringe benefits, such as cutting payroll expenses as hourly stadium employees spend less time at work or being able to shut the lights off 10 minutes earlier, an average savings-per-game predicted by the commissioner's office. Cue Article XIII.
Related PostRob Manfred Vows Pace of Play Rules Changes for 2018 (11/16/17).

MLB will purportedly introduce a 20-second pitch clock for all situations—both "bases empty" and "runners on" scenarios—starting when the pitcher has the ball on the mound and stopping when the windup begins, or the pitcher comes set, in a form similar to that first introduced at the 2014 AFL.

As has been practice in the minors, this pitch clock will reset if the pitcher steps off the rubber, while the batter must enter the box within five seconds of the clock starting; pitchers who fail to windup or set prior to the expiration of time will be warned, after which any subsequent violation will result in an automatic ball.

A 30-second between-batters clock, similar to the 2016 AFL model, is also expected to make an appearance in 2018; the rejected proposal had included a 35-second between-batters timer.

Mound visits are about to change.
Another initiative likely to see implementation concerns mound visits, and will expand the current definition of a mound visit—which presently occurs when a coach or manager enters the field to confer with a pitch—to include players, such that a pitcher conferring with a first baseman, for instance, shall be charged a mound visit, the second of which within an inning would require the pitcher to leave the game, as in OBR 5.10(l) regarding "Visits to the Mound."

Sidebar: In our 2017 postseason live blog, we noted that catchers were visiting the mound to confer with pitchers to a point of excess; the proposed change would limit their ability to do this.

For reference, Rule 5.10(l) presently reads, in part (circa 2017):
(1) This rule limits the number of trips a manager or coach may make to any one pitcher in any one inning;
(2) A second trip to the same pitcher in the same inning will cause this pitcher’s automatic removal from the game
The Clubs had purportedly proposed six allowed "no-charge" conferences per game, which would have allowed players to confer with the pitcher without invoking the mound visit rule up to six times per game; instead, MLBPA's rejection means that Manfred and the Clubs are free to implement any pace-of-play proposal first introduced in Winter 2016 or earlier, which includes the aforementioned pitch clocks, between-batters clock, and mound visit restrictions.


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