The young players in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) are the guinea pigs in major league baseball’s experiment to speed up the pace of the game. It’s worth noting that the new rules were designed by a Pace of Game Committee that didn’t contain any active players. Most of the discussion online seems to focus on the 20-second rule (which dictates an automatic “Ball” if the pitcher has possession of the ball for more than 20 seconds and does not begin the throwing motion) and the no-pitch intentional walk. However, a total of six new pace of game rules are being used in the AFL:
1. The 20-Second Rule
This rule gives the pitcher 20 seconds from taking possession of the ball to beginning the throwing motion. Right now, games being played at Salt Fork in the AFL have a 20-second clock behind home plate, in both dugouts, and in the outfield. The person running this clock is an independent operator and not part of the umpiring crew. Perhaps it’s an attempt at job creation. One thing to note is that the 20 seconds begins regardless of whether the batter is in the box or not. Which leads to…
2. The Batter’s Box Rule
The batter must keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout the at-bat (some exceptions include foul balls/foul tips, pitches that require the batter to get out of the way, wild pitches, passed balls, “time” being requested and granted). Then the batter can leave the box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate.
3. The No-Pitch Intentional Walk
No more throwing outside to intentionally walk the batter. The manager shall signal to the home plate umpire by holding up four fingers. No pitches will be thrown.
4. The 2:05 Inning Break
There will be a maximum break of two minutes and five seconds in between innings. The batter has to be in the box by 1:45 or the umpire may call an automatic strike. Conversely, if the batter is in place and the pitcher fails to throw a pitch by the 2:05 mark, the umpire may call an automatic ball.
5. The 2:30 Pitching Break
Pitching changes cannot take longer than 2:30, including changes that occur in between innings. The first pitch has to be thrown before the conclusion of the 2:30 or the umpire may call a ball. The clock starts when the pitch enters the playing field (i.e., crosses the warning track or foul line).
6. Three Time-Out Limit
This limits each team to three on-field conferences per game, including extra innings games. This includes player-to-player (e.g., catcher and pitcher) or player-to-coach/manager. It doesn’t include conferences during inning breaks or breaks because of emergency or injury.
The first AFL game played with the proposed pace of game rules was played earlier this week. It lasted two hours and 14 minutes. Some might call this a success. I suppose if you think baseball games need only last approximately as long as, say, Spider-Man 3, then yes, it was a success. If some of the myriad reasons why you love baseball center around intangibles like strategy and artistry, then you’re calling shenanigans. Herewith, a non-exhaustive list of why these rules trouble me.
It puts a hell of a lot of pressure on the pitcher.
This could be broken down into three or four items. For a game that depends so strongly on pitching, the pace of game rules make their jobs more difficult. Interviews with some of the players in the first AFL game using the rules noted some of the effects: if the pitcher gets in the hole, it’s more difficult to step off the mound a take a mental reboot/regain his composure if he has to watch the clock; pitchers may rush in from the bullpen to beat the clock and that may take something off their first few pitches; and runners on base can take advantage of pitchers who can’t step off.
Shot clocks? We don’t need no stinking shot clocks.
I question the necessity of the 20-second clock. With the exception of Mark Buehrle, the fastest active pitchers (from 2008-2014) take about 18-18.4 seconds in between pitches. But the major league average during that time has been 21.8 seconds. Assuming 130 pitches thrown per team, those two seconds add about 4:33 per side and about nine minutes per game. If it frees up pitchers to stare down a runner a couple of times, I don’t mind giving them those nine minutes.
It may change the way the bullpen is managed
Relief pitchers sometimes have as little as two or three minutes to warm up as it is. A quick conference on the pitcher’s mound is a time-honored method of buying more time for the guy in the bullpen to warm up. If the team has already used all three of their conferences, the reliever has even less time. Relievers will undoubtedly need to be up and throwing in the bullpen sooner than before.
We’ll never have another Mike Hargrove.
Watching the Human Rain Delay gave me my first insights into the mental side of baseball, the ways a player can use time to his advantage, either by moving quickly or taking his time. Can it be infuriating? Sure. But a human rain delay once in a while adds to the flavor of the game.
No-pitch intentional walks are for pussies
Okay, I couldn’t think of a polite yet succinct way to summarize this. This proposed rule assumes the completion of a certain action on the field of play–four thrown balls. The pitcher does not throw four balls in a row, yet the batter assumes first base anyway. The batter is there; pitch to him. Said rule would also eliminate funky moments like this or these.
If you don’t want to watch baseball for three hours, you probably won’t want to watch it for two and a half hours.
Either you like baseball or you don’t. The commercials on TV will still be there, no matter how fast the game is going. (Is it a coincidence that the time in between innings break is 2:05 instead of a nice even two minutes? It allows for a full two minutes worth of commercials with a five-second bubble for Rick Manning to say “And we’re back here in the 5th inning at Progressive Field….”)
I’m not adverse to putting a time limit on inning breaks. Two-out rallies notwithstanding, that’s a break players can generally anticipate, so putting a limit on lollygagging makes sense. There is already a 12-second time limit between pitches when the bases are empty (rule 8.04). Tweak if you must, MLB, but don’t lose the heart of the game.