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MLB is considering tweaks to some of its new rules

The pitch timer is among them, though nothing is certain at this point.

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Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

In this writer’s view, the new rules instituted by Major League Baseball — the pitch timer, the larger bases and shift restrictions — are working exceptionally well.

The pitch timer (its official name, though you might call it the “pitch clock”) has been especially effective. Through Sunday’s games, the average length of a Spring Training game has dropped by about 25 minutes, which is what MLB had hoped for.

According to Evan Drellich in The Athletic, there’s been some feedback from players about how the rules are working and MLB’s Competition Committee met on Monday to consider the following things that have been noted by players:

That the 15-second pitch timer is too constricting with no one on base.

That hitters should get slightly more time and shouldn’t need to be in the box and “alert to the pitcher” with eight seconds left on the timer.

That players who are involved in a defensive play to end one half-inning should get extra time if they are leading off the next half-inning.

That hitters should be allowed more than one timeout per plate appearance.

My reactions to the above are:

  • MLB has had a rule on the books for decades, never enforced, of a 12-second limit. The minor leagues have been using a 14-second limit for the last couple of years. In my view, the 15-second limit with no one on base is just fine.
  • Regarding the “alert to the pitcher” with eight seconds left — eh, I can see dropping this by a second or two, maybe to six seconds, to give batters more time.
  • The defensive play comments seem unnecessary. It shouldn’t take longer just because a player made a play to end the previous half-inning.
  • A big, huge NO to more than one batter timeout per plate appearance. This was one of the biggest things making games longer — batters stepping out of the box, adjusting batting gloves, etc. One timeout should be enough.

Drellich spoke to a couple of MLB executives about possible tweaks, before the above comments were made:

Said MLB spokesperson Glen Caplin: “If it’s a small tweak that needs to be made, that can be done. I don’t think you’re going to see a large wholesale change of any kind.”

“It sort of depends on exactly what you’re talking about,” MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, Chris Marinak, said at the time. “You’ve seen in different rule changes that we’ve made in the past that we certainly make I guess what I would call interpretations, or provide guidance (in the) middle of the season, based on how the experience unfolds. So to the extent something is new, and to the extent there are questions about interpretations, or how language is intended to be applied, we have done that in the past. And that may be something that we need to do this go around, depending on what circumstances unfold. Outside of that, I’m not sure that we have any plans to do anything more than something like I described.”

I think this is what we’re going to see happen — minor tweaks possible, but no major changes to the way Spring Training games have been played. We are likely going to see games run a bit longer once the regular season begins anyway. First is the fact that teams generally don’t play any sort of situational baseball in spring games. That sort of thing might slow games down, a bit. I have not seen many pitchers do “disengagements,” or stepping off, and only once do I recall any pitcher do it twice in a plate appearance. One pitcher, though, has specifically been practicing disengagements:

In this article by Jayson Stark in The Athletic, he addresses several possible scenarios regarding the new rules, including this one about disengagements:

First and third. The pitcher comes set. There have been two disengagements. Runner on first takes off and infielders yell, “Step off, step off!” The pitcher disengages and runs straight at the runner, as he should. Runner on third breaks for home. The pitcher hears, “Four! Four!” So he wheels and throws home. A rundown ensues and the runner from first races for third, as he should. An error in the rundown allows the runner from third to score. No out has been recorded on a third disengagement. By (new) rule, a “balk” is called. Does the runner now at third (who began this play on first base) return to second base? Is it a “balk” or not? — Mark R.

Mark, this is another thing that is bound to unfold one of these games. But the answer is, if that runner advances, there is no balk, and the result of the play overrides the balk call. That’s how it should be, right?

It’ll be interesting. Also, the “no more than two disengagements” rule resets for each plate appearance.

There will also be time taken up during regular-season games with replay reviews, which do not exist for spring games. It is my opinion that reviews should be completed within about the time of an inning break (two minutes, 15 seconds). If they can’t figure it out by then, it should be “call stands.” That’s a tweak they could also make right now.

In the end, I think the Competition Committee did an excellent job with these new rules and they don’t need much tweaking — if any. Reducing the length of an average game by 25 minutes will be a boon to everyone. And if you’re thinking shorter games lead to reduced concession sales, J.J. Cooper of Baseball America says that hasn’t happened in the minor leagues:

So I asked minor league front offices: with their average game time dropping by nearly half an hour in 2022, did they see a drop in concessions revenue?

The answer I got back universally from more than a dozen minor league operators was no. Minor league teams did not see a loss in concessions sales because games were shorter.

“We didn’t see concession sales suffer due to shorter games as fans were staying the same amount of time as they normally would, but were now just staying until the end of the game instead of the end of the seventh inning,” said one minor league team GM.

“We did not see a negative effect on concession sales. People still eat and drink as much as they used to. The 7th-9th innings of a 3 hour, 30 minute game are not high concession sales,” said another.

Baseball’s going to be different this year. Having already attended 14 games this spring, I think you’re going to like it.