MLB's recently formed Pace of Game Committee acted quickly to activate six initiatives it thinks could speed up baseball games in the near future. They'll be tested during the six-week Arizona Fall League, which begins Oct. 7.
The committee — announced last week by Commissioner Bud Selig after the average MLB game topped three hours for the first time ever — couldn't sit on its hands in this matter, lest we all laugh at the irony.
The six experimental rules range from "incremental to dramatic," according to Selig. Here they are, with descriptions directly from MLB:
• Batter’s Box Rule: The batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout his at-bat, unless one of a series of established exceptions occurs, in which case the batter may leave the batter’s box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate. (Exceptions include a foul ball or a foul tip; a pitch forcing the batter out of the batter’s box; “time” being requested and granted; a wild pitch or a passed ball; and several others.)
• No-Pitch Intentional Walks: In the event a team decides to intentionally walk a batter, no pitches shall be thrown. Instead, the manager shall signal to the home plate umpire with four fingers, and the batter should proceed to first base to become a runner.
• 2:05 Inning Break Clock: There shall be a maximum 2:05 break between innings. Hitters must enter the batter’s box by the 1:45 mark. When batters violate this rule, the Umpire may call an automatic strike. When batters are set by the appropriate time and pitchers fail to throw a pitch before the conclusion of the 2:05 period, the Umpire shall call a ball.
• 2:30 Pitching Change Break Clock: There shall be a maximum 2:30 break for pitching changes, including pitching changes that occur during an inning break. The first pitch must be thrown before the conclusion of the 2:30 period or the umpire shall call a ball. The clock shall start when the new pitcher enters the playing field (i.e., crosses the warning track, or foul line).
• Three “Time Out” Limit: Each team shall be permitted only three “Time Out” conferences per game (including extra innings). Such conferences shall include player conferences with the pitcher (including the catcher), manager or coach conferences with the pitcher, and coach conferences with a batter. Conferences during pitching changes, and time outs called as a result of an injury or other emergency, shall not be counted towards this limit. A manager, coach or player will not be permitted to call a fourth time out in violation of this Rule. In such cases, the game will continue uninterrupted, and offenders may be subject to discipline.
This last one is quite a mouthful. You ready?
• 20-Second Rule [at 17 Salt River Fields home games]: A modified version of Rule 8.04, which discourages unnecessary delays by the pitcher, shall apply. Rule 8.04 requires the pitcher to deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball with the bases unoccupied. The penalty prescribed by Rule 8.04 for a pitcher’s violation of the Rule is that the umpire shall call “Ball.”
In the AFL games at Salt River, a clock will be displayed in both dugouts, behind home plate, and in the outfield. The clock will be operated by an independent operator, who is not a member of the umpire crew. A pitcher shall be allowed 20 seconds to throw each pitch. The batter must be in the box prepared for the pitch during the entire 20-second period. If the batter steps out of the box during the 20-second period, the pitcher may deliver the pitch and the umpire may call a strike, unless the batter was first granted time by the umpire. As described in Rule 6.02(b) Comment, umpires may grant a hitter’s reasonable request for “Time” under appropriate circumstances.
The 20-second clock shall begin when the pitcher is in possession of the ball, regardless of whether the batter is in the box or otherwise alert to the pitcher; provided, however, that (1) with respect to the first pitch to each batter, the clock shall begin when the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher, (2) with respect to a pitch to a batter following a play in which the pitcher was involved as a fielder (including backing up throws), the clock shall begin when the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher, and the pitcher has entered the dirt circle to approach the pitcher’s plate to begin pitching to the batter, and (3) after a hitter fouls off a pitch, the clock shall begin when the umpire points to the pitcher and says “Play.” Please note that the Official Baseball Rules governing quick pitches still apply.
The clock will stop only when the pitcher begins his motion to deliver the ball (and not “when the pitcher releases the ball” as prescribed in Rule 8.04). Beginning the motion of coming to the set position shall be sufficient to stop the clock. If the pitcher maintains possession of the ball without beginning his pitching motion for more than 20 seconds, the Umpire shall call “Ball.” The umpire shall give the pitcher a reasonable opportunity to take his proper position on the pitcher’s plate after the umpire has called a ball and before the umpire calls a successive ball pursuant to this Rule.
Much of this seems based on rule changes that had great success this season in the independent Atlantic League. The Atlantic League was able to shave eight minutes off average game times by making five changes: a 12-second pitch clock, automatic intentional walks, an expanded strike zone, six warm-up pitches for relievers instead of eight and limiting defensive timeouts to three.
MLB also tested out its video replay system during last year's Arizona Fall League. So far, it seems like MLB is approaching its speed-up-the-game initiatives a lot like it did video replay last year. Braves president John Schuerholz chaired both committees.
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