Looking at the “Pace of Game” rules that will be experimented in the AFL

The Arizona Fall League will, this year, be a test bed for some possible rule changes to speed up the pace of play in baseball. It is, of course, an important issue, and I’m glad to see that already some possible changes will be tested. So, let’s take a look at what we’ve got here:

 

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.)

 

A fine rule to start with. A chunk of the killed time these days is because batters step out to take some practice swings or adjust some equipment after nearly every pitch. So, on the surface, forcing hitters to stay in the box is good. However, there are some possible flaws, mainly in the fact there are a ton of exceptions, with the biggest one being the fact the batter can still call “time”. Yes, sometimes when a batter calls time it is for a good reason, but other times it is just so that they can do the aforementioned practice swings or adjustments. So, ultimately, this rule will only help if umpires cut down on unnecessary calls of “time”, otherwise the problem will remain, just in a different form.

(MORE AFTER THE JUMP)

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.

This is both a obvious change but also one that subtlely takes some strategy and chance out of the game. Yes, 99% of the time, it’s an uneventful throwing of the ball to the catcher outside of the strike zone four times and that’s it. But there are those rare times where the ball goes wild, the batter says “screw this” and leans over and tries to hit it anyway (Pete Rose once got on base on an error as a result of doing such a thing), and still other times there are fake-outs where it appears that a intentional walk will occur only for the catcher to quickly slide behind the plate and catch a strike when the hitter least expects it. Those are, of course, very rare, but they do happen. However, they probably are rare enough where this rule remains a no-brainer.

20-Second Rule [AT 17 SALT RIVER FIELDS HOME GAMES ONLY]: 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.

 

Got all of that? No? Well, basically, at certain games of the Arizona Fall League this season, there will be a pitch-clock set for 20 seconds. There are plenty of other rules attached to that, such as when it will start and stop, but in essence it’s a pitch-clock.

This seems like the least-likely innovation to be adopted on a wide-spread basis, and the fact it will only be part of certain AFL games seems to indicate it is one that the Pace-of-Play committee isn’t as sure about it. It’s easy to see why: it’d be a radical change (the biggest since at least the introduction of the DH) and one that literally would require changes to be made in stadiums and ballfields across the country, if not the world.

That said, it is a good idea to try it out, and it’s presence here is a good sign that the “pace of play” committee has everything on the table.

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).

 

These two rules make sense, but may run into problems when it comes to the business of baseball: I don’t think MLB or it’s broadcast partners will want to put a two to two-and-half minute limit on the ad time they can sell, especially if there is enough demand to fill more. I’m guessing that if these rules are adapted by MLB, they end up being at least 30 seconds longer.

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 seems like a good rule, but also one that might need to get adjusted. Perhaps have more time-outs if you reach extra-innings, for example. I wouldn’t be totally shocked if this ends up in MLB.

 

Only time will tell how all of these turn out.

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