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MLB’s new pace of play rules will mean changes for Willson Contreras

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He goes to the mound a lot. He won’t be able to do that anymore.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Major League Baseball Monday announced that it had reached agreement with the MLB Players Association on pace of play rule changes for the 2018 season.

This is, incidentally, in and of itself a good thing — that owners and players reached this deal without Commissioner Rob Manfred unilaterally implementing the changes himself. Had that happened, it would have been another bad sign for future owner/player negotiations. Baby steps and all.

Manfred said in a statement: “I am pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with the Players Association to take concrete steps to address pace of play with the cooperation of players. My strong preference is to continue to have ongoing dialogue with players on this topic to find mutually acceptable solutions.”

Those of you who didn’t want a pitch clock get your wish — this year. The Commissioner has decided to defer the implementation of a pitch clock and a between-batter clock in 2018 in order to provide players with an opportunity to speed up the game without the use of those devices.

That’s all good. The changes for this year primarily involve mound visits. To wit:

Mound visits without a pitching change shall be limited to six (6) per team, per nine innings. For any extra-innings played, each Club shall be entitled to one additional non-pitching change mound visit per inning.

Well, that’s not so bad, right? Most coaches and managers, at least in the vast majority of games, don’t have to start visiting the mound until the middle innings, so that should work out fine, right?

Oh, wait.

(2) Definition of Mound Visit. A manager or coach trip to the mound to meet with the pitcher shall constitute a visit. A player leaving his position to confer with the pitcher, including a pitcher leaving the mound to confer with another player, shall also constitute a mound visit, regardless of where the visit occurs or the length of the visit, except that the following shall not constitute mound visits:

a. Discussions between pitchers and position player(s) that (i) occur between batters in the normal course of play and do not require either the position player(s) or the pitcher to relocate;

b. Visits by position players to the mound to clean spikes in rainy conditions;

c. Visits to the mound due to an injury or potential injury of the pitcher; and

d. Visits to the mound after the announcement of an offensive substitution.

(3) Cross-Up in Signs. In the event a team has exhausted its allotment of mound visits in a game (or extra inning) and the home plate umpire determines that the catcher and pitcher did not have a shared understanding of the location or type of pitch that had been signaled by the catcher (otherwise referred to as a “cross-up”), the home plate umpire may, upon request of the catcher, allow the catcher to make a brief mound visit. Any mound visit resulting from a cross-up prior to a team exhausting its allotted number of visits shall count against a team’s total number of allotted mound visits.

Boldface and italics added by me.

As you know, Willson Contreras makes many visits to the mound. Very many visits. So many, in fact, that although I haven’t specifically gone through and looked at every single game he’s caught, I would not be surprised to learn that he has, at least once, made six mound visits in a single inning.

Well, all that’s going to stop, except as noted above, in the event of a “cross-up in signs.” Which happens. But I don’t see umpires granting this to Willson (or any catcher) very often, and as noted above, that will count as an official “mound visit” anyway.

What this is going to do, I think, is force teams to get their signs much more in order, choose pitch sequences on hitters much more in advance, and after that they’re just going to have to play baseball. If umpires enforce this as it’s written, this could really speed up many games. Can umpires do that?

Umpires shall direct players and enforce the inning break and pitching change time limits on the field. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline for just cause by the Office of the Commissioner pursuant to Article XI(C) of the Basic Agreement.

Article XI(C) refers to fines and suspensions and the appeals process that’s given by the Commissioner’s office in case of rules violations.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon acknowledged these changes will require some adjustments:

Manager Joe Maddon said he was curious as to what the average actual number of trips to the mound in a game has been, but said, “Whatever the number is, we’ll abide by it.”

Maddon didn’t think catcher Willson Contreras, who is notorious for frequent visits to the mound, would be affected much by the new rules.

“We’ll just have to figure out non-verbal methods of communicating,” Maddon said. “We won’t be texting.”

The rest of the rule changes announced Monday have to do with the timing of inning breaks (2:05 for regular-season games, 2:25 for regular-season national TV games and 2:55 for postseason games) and how pitchers must complete their warmup tosses with 25 seconds to go, the batter’s name must be announced (and the rule specifically says,“batter walk-up music shall begin” at 20 seconds, and the first pitch must be delivered by the time the timer gets to zero, as well as a note that “the batter’s box rule that was in effect during the 2017 season will remain in effect during the 2018 season,” and the following notes for replay review:

Install capability for all Club video review rooms to receive direct slow motion camera angles for the 2018 championship season;

Install new phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout, and monitor the communications over those lines to prevent their use for sign-stealing.

But the biggest change, in my view, will come from limiting catcher (and other player) visits to the mound. Sometimes, as noted above, those can occur several times an inning. If this is enforced properly, we should see a speeding up of the pace of play without taking anything away from actual game action.

Better work on those non-verbal signals, Willson. You’re going to need them.