MLB season preview: Will baseball's new pace-of-play rules actually work?

Big League Stew

Editor’s note: From now until opening day, Yahoo Sports will be getting you ready for the 2018 MLB season with a series of previews and roundtable discussions with our writers. We’ve already talked about breakout teams, disappointing teams and teams that didn’t do enough. Today, we’re talking about the effects of MLB’s new pace-of-play rules.

Outside of free agency, the issue that seemed to cause the most strife during Major League Baseball’s drama-filled offseason revolves around three little words: Pace of play.

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Yes, we hear about them each winter, as MLB continues to tweak the rules in hopes of speeding up the game. This year’s big rule change: MLB is limiting the number of mound visits a team can use to six. Teams aren’t happy about it, especially pitchers and catchers. There’s definitely going to be some on-the-job learning here, as the rules weren’t totally clear when spring training games started. Meanwhile, teams are already trying to get creative with ways for the catcher and pitcher to talk more that won’t count as a mound visit.

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There’s a lot to parse through there, but the big question is: Will any of this work? Yahoo Sports MLB experts Jeff Passan and Tim Brown discuss in the video above and the Big League Stew writers give their opinions below.

Home plate umpire Scott Barry talks with Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts during a mound visit in the Dodgers’ baseball spring training game against the Chicago White Sox. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Home plate umpire Scott Barry talks with Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts during a mound visit in the Dodgers’ baseball spring training game against the Chicago White Sox. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

MARK TOWNSEND: No
I honestly don’t think we’ll see any improvements. Perhaps early in the season the mound-visit limit will be stringently enforced, but players are going to find their ways to work around the rules. We’ve already heard the Cubs brainstorming ideas out loud, and it’s not going to stop pitchers from hem-hawing around when they’re not comfortable with a pitch or not familiar with a batter or not happy about a call. When the games start to really matter, players are going to work at their pace unless there’s a clock dictating otherwise.

LIZ ROSCHER: No
There’s definitely a chance that forcing teams to become more creative about communication could actually speed up the game. That chance exists and I can’t deny it. But most likely, limiting mound visits is going to turn into a huge disaster that only adds more time to every game. The umpires have been given an enormous amount of power, which is terrible because there are still no clear rules on what happens when a team or player tries to initiate a seventh mound visit. MLB has put so much of this on the umpires that there’s no way this ends well. We could see ejections, arguments, and maybe even a brawl or two. It seems like no one at MLB thought this through, and it’s going to be evident almost immediately.

MIKE OZ: A little bit
Are you ready for a tepid take? The new rules will help … a little bit. Ahh yes, I’m getting bold here. I don’t think the mound-visit limit is baseball armageddon and I do think it’ll help things out a little bit. However, I’m also fully prepared for it to work like the rule about batters not leaving the batter’s box a couple years ago. It was a big deal for about a month. And then it wasn’t anymore. This rule — like the batter’s box rule — seems to be about training teams to avoid the egregious. Some corrected behavior will happen, but whether it *works* depends on MLB’s goal. If games are 30 seconds shorter on average, is that a win? If the seventh inning doesn’t drag on in September, is that a win? I think the rule will help to cut down on the egregious, but I don’t know that it’s the pace-of-play silver bullet.

CHRIS CWIK: No
Even if the proposed changes speed up the game, it’s not going to make enough of a difference to matter. Rob Manfred has told the players they need to reduce game time to two hours and fifty-five minutes. That’s a 13 minute improvement over last season. Without much stricter rules and consequences, that ain’t happening. This is all building to a pitch clock eventually. Manfred promised he wouldn’t bring it up if the players cut those minutes. They won’t, and Manfred will force them to adopt a clock, possibly as soon as 2019.

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Mike Oz is a writer at Yahoo Sports. Contact him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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