Earlier this week, we learned that MLB’s Competition Committee is considering a proposal to reduce the pitch timer’s count to 18 seconds with runners on base.
It’s probably going to happen because the committee has the authority to impose these rule changes 45 days after they’re proposed.
Now, per Ken Rosenthal in The Athletic, MLB is also proposing other rule changes for next year, tweaking those that control batter timeouts, pitching changes and mound visits.
Let’s look at these three things. You probably noticed, as the 2023 season went on, that batters were taking their one permitted timeout with two strikes on them more often. One of the results was that games wound up running slightly longer late in the season, which is one reason the league wants to shorten the pitch time with runners on base. So here’s what the committee is proposing re: batter timeouts.
The home-plate umpire would signal for the re-start of the 15- or 18-second between-pitch timer after granting the batter’s request for time.
The league said two issues emerged with timeouts last season. Hitters took advantage because there was no time limit, and pitchers sometimes held the ball for prolonged periods because the clock did not reset until the batter returned to the box. The average duration of a timeout increased by two seconds from April to September.
One potential problem with the proposed change is that it would not necessarily achieve its desired goal. Hitters could wait as long as possible to call a timeout, then delay their entrance into the box until the last possible instant.
This is all gamesmanship, of course. And the slippery slope is that this keeps happening and delays games even more. Umpires should be given more discretion to tell hitters to get back in the box. Or, put a time limit on timeouts.
Here’s another proposed change:
• Pitchers must work exclusively from the stretch with runners on base. The committee wants to adopt this rule because of a recent trend in which pitchers have adopted “hybrid” deliveries that incorporate elements of the stretch and windup, creating confusion, particularly with runners on third base.
Some pitchers don’t like the idea of the league dictating their style of delivery.
“You can’t tell me how I want to throw,” one veteran said. “I have to be able to use any tactic to get a hitter out.”
I think the veteran pitcher quoted here is correct. In fact, you’ve probably seen a lot of pitchers working from the stretch with NO ONE on base. On the other hand, this “hybrid” delivery as described could work for pitchers, and I think runners will simply have to adjust. I’m with the pitchers here.
• Mound visits. The committee, saying “mound visits rank among fans’ least favorite events in baseball,” wants to reduce the number from five to four. A team still would get an extra visit in the ninth inning if it exhausts its allotment.
This is fine with me. Most teams don’t use their entire allotment anyway; I can remember only a couple of times since the mound visit limit was instituted that the Cubs went down to zero.
• Pitching changes. The timer would reset to two minutes rather than 2:15 when the new pitcher steps on the warning track.
Another good idea. This could save a couple of minutes per game.
• Circumvention. Pitchers no longer would be permitted to delay the start of the clock by walking around the edge of the mound after a ball is out of play.
This is sort of the pitcher version of the batter timeout. Perhaps allow one of them per plate appearance?
• The requirement that a pitcher who warms up must face at least one hitter. This change would eliminate the ability for the defense to wait for the first hitter of the inning to be announced and then make a pitching change.
The committee cited 23 instances last season where the pitcher that warmed up between innings was replaced before throwing a pitch, adding approximately three minutes of dead time in each instance.
I like this a lot. It seems to me that several of those 23 instances were during Cubs games, and Rosenthal is correct, this just adds dead time to a game. All in favor of this.
Rob Manfred, for all his flaws, has been on the “pick up the pace of play” train since he became Commissioner. These changes would help keep the pace of play going and not let the game go back down that slippery slope to three hours on average.
Get ‘em done.