By this point, the news that Major League Baseball is doing away with the four-pitch intentional walk is old. Everyone already knows it’s happening. But that’s not the only change that MLB is making for the 2017 season.
The commissioner’s office on Thursday announced seven changes that it’s making to the rules this year, including the aforementioned change to the intentional walk. Three changes deal directly with the expanded replay system, which has been continually tweaked since it was introduced in 2014.
First, here’s the official language about the intentional walk.
The start of a no-pitch intentional walk, allowing the defensive team’s manager to signal a decision to the home plate umpire to intentionally walk the batter. Following the signal of the manager’s intention, the umpire will immediately award first base to the batter.
That seems fairly straightforward. It’s not like they were going to require the defensive team’s manager to do the chicken dance to call for an intentional walk. (Though that’s something they should definitely consider because it would be hilarious.)
Now on to the rules about expanded replay, everyone’s favorite topic.
· A 30-second limit for a manager to decide whether to challenge a play and invoke replay review.
So MLB has decided to crack down on managers who take too long to decide if they’re going to challenge or not. However, the time it takes for a manager to make the decision typically rests with the team’s internal replay and video people. When there’s a questionable call, most of the time one of the coaches will get on the phone to see if the play is worth challenging. If it is, he’ll signal the manager (who is typically standing just a few feet away). The 30-second rule seems like more of a formality, but it’ll definitely force teams to refine their own video replay processes.
· When a manager has exhausted his challenges for the game, Crew Chiefs may now invoke replay review for non-home run calls beginning in the eighth inning instead of the seventh inning.
This is another rule limiting teams and their use of expanded replay. A manager now has to think about another whole inning when deciding whether or not to challenge. If he challenges a play in the fifth and the call isn’t overturned, he’s out of luck if there’s a questionable tag in the seventh inning. The umpires don’t have to take a look at that because it’s not a home-run call.
· A conditional two-minute guideline for Replay Officials to render a decision on a replay review, allowing various exceptions.
It appears that this rule puts a time limit on the officials who actually look at the plays offsite when a team challenges. However, the phrase “allowing various exceptions” is pretty telling, especially since they don’t expand on it. We don’t know what those exceptions could be, or how often they could occur. So this essentially reads like “You have a two-minute time limit, unless it takes longer, which is totally fine.” I understand that the commissioner’s office is responding to complaints that some replays take a long time, but isn’t the point is to get the call right? If it’s about doing it quickly, why even bother with replay?
This next rule change seems simple enough, but there’s more to the story than that.
· A prohibition on the use of any markers on the field that could create a tangible reference system for fielders.
This rule appears to be a direct response to something the Los Angeles Dodgers were caught doing in 2016. When they played the New York Mets at Citi Field in May, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Dodgers used an electronic laser rangefinder to mark defensive positions in the outfield. It was done before the game, and the Dodgers asked the Mets’ grounds crew if they could leave markers. When the grounds crew eventually said no, the Dodgers said that their outfielders would cleat up the grass in that area if the markers were removed to indicate their positions. And that’s exactly what this new rule is prohibiting. Teams can still use electronics to help with positioning before the game, but teams are no longer allowed to leave any marks of any kind on the field to help players stand where they’re supposed to.
This rule change might end up having its own name, the Carter Capps Rule.
· An addition to Rule 5.07 formalizes an umpire interpretation by stipulating that a pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is at least one runner on base, then such an action will be called as a balk under Rule 6.02(a). If the bases are unoccupied, then it will be considered an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).
Capps’ unorthodox pitching delivery walks the fine, fine line between “delivery” and “balk,” and that’s what this rule is clarifying. Before he takes that big step forward and lets go of the ball, Capps takes a little hop step toward home plate. At least he did in the past. This rule means he might have to refine that going forward.
And there’s one more rule change for good measure.
· An amendment to Rule 5.03 requires base coaches to position themselves behind the line of the coach’s box closest to home plate and the front line that runs parallel to the foul line prior to each pitch. Once a ball is put in play, a base coach is allowed to leave the coach’s box to signal a player so long as the coach does not interfere with play.
There’s nothing particularly alarming or strange about this rule change, it’s just clarifying where base coaches can stand and when they’re allowed to move. Unfortunately, the marker for base coaches is still a line and not a box, so we’re all being denied any amusing “trapped in a box” miming during games.
Even though the other six rule changes lack the zing and excitement of the initial announcement about the death of the four-pitch intentional walk, they’re all important in their own way. What’s absent from these changes is any mention of a pitch clock, which commissioner Rob Manfred has repeatedly said he’d like to implement. So something tells me we should look for that one in the future.
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