GLENDALE — With spring training underway in Major League Baseball, one of the hottest issues in the sport is the newly introduced pace-of-game rules designed to quell the slowing down of games that has impacted baseball in the last decade.
Mainly, concern has arisen over a new rule that limits non-pitching change mound visits to six per game for managers, catchers and infielders, with additional visits allotted in extra inning games.
Tuesday at Cactus League Media Day, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred addressed those changes for the first time, saying any improvement in pace of game is good for the league because it’s good for the fans.
“Pace of game is a fan issue,” Manfred said. “Our research tells us that it’s a fan issue. Our broadcast partners tell us that it’s a fan issue. And the independent research that our broadcast partners do confirm the fact that it is a fan issue.”
With the idea of combatting “dead time” in mind, the league also reduced the time in between innings. The amount depends on who is broadcasting the game, with local broadcasts getting the shortest time and postseason games the longest.
The new rule will impact the entire roster but certainly catchers, who are used to trotting out to the pitcher at any sign of trouble. If after six visits from a team, a catcher attempts to go to the mound, the home plate umpire will stop him from doing so. If he then argues, he runs the risk of ejection.
Within the managerial community, however, mixed feelings were expressed on the change’s impact on the modern day and how it would have impacted them in their playing careers.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who caught for over a decade in the majors, said the new rules would have impacted his game because he went to the mound a lot during his playing career, “but sometimes you have to make adjustments.”
As a young pitcher, Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black relied on mound visits, which has led him to a quicker trigger when using them in games he manages. That will have to stop this season.
“I do think we have to be aware of each and every time we go out there and really value the importance of each visit,” Black said. “There are times when I’ve sent a pitching coach out there to calm a pitcher down when maybe he might not have needed it.”
A season ago, the average length of a game was at an all-time high of 3 hours, 5 minutes. That’s nearly 15 minutes longer than the average in 2010. Players and managers alike have voiced their concerns about how long games are taking, which has lead to recent measures.
But as much-needed and clamored for changes have been, the new rules will require an adjustment period.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin thinks the biggest hurdle will be changing the way he and his players operate in terms of those visits and adjusting to the new rule.
“Like anything in baseball, it’s very routine-oriented,” Melvin said. “Once we figure out the parameters, how we’re going to go about it, then you get a month or two into it, I don’t think there’ll be much talk about it.”
But what it does is leave the door open to is unintended consequences. While some noted that players and managers will attempt to circumvent the rule with meetings elsewhere than the mound, Royals manager Ned Yost noted it could impact situations outside play as well.
“Salvador Perez is as good as anybody if an umpire gets hit with a foul ball,” Yost said. “He’ll go out to the mound and give the umpire a chance to get over it. Is the umpire going to count that as a trip for us? If he is, then the heck with you, you go ahead and hurt. We’ll just stop doing it.”