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MLB to test new pace-of-play rules in the Arizona Fall League -- including a pitch clock

They’ve identified pace-of-play as a problem. They’ve created a committee to study it. Now, today, Major League Baseball has announced new rules, to be tested during the Arizona Fall League, aimed at increasing the pace of the game. They will include the following. This text is directly from the MLB press release:

  • The 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.
  • 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.”
  • 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.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s start with a general caveat that this is just an experiment, experiments are good things, and thus things that we may think are dumb -- like displayed pitch clocks -- should at least be given a chance to see if they work in the AFL. If they simply imposed this on actual major league games without a test, fine, fire away, but there’s no harm in testing it all here.

As for the rules themselves: I like the no-pitch intentional walk. I LOVE the rule about batters having to keep a foot in the box, though that list of exceptions to the rule is pretty long and could prove, in practice, to swallow the rule. We’ll see. I also love the “time out” rule. We don’t need the Sons of Posada continuing to go out to the mound after every pitch to have a confab with the pitcher. Figure your approach and your signs out before the game and between innings, OK?

The “change break” rules are fine for the Fall League and maybe most regular season Major League games. But good luck on specifying inning and pitching change break times in the postseason when commercials rule the day. There will be pushback on any such measures from the business people at some point.

As for the pitching clock -- which will be an actual clock on the wall of the outfield, behind home plate and in each dugout, operated by an independent time-keeper -- I like that they are couching it in terms of the existing rule about how fast a pitcher must deliver the pitch. And, as many big league pitchers have opined, the 12 seconds stated in the rule is probably too fast. Twenty may even be too fast, but better to start there and see what happens. As we’ve said many times, the key here is to get the pitcher and the batter on the ball, so I think the “keep your foot in the box” rule and the pitching clock could prove to be the key to all of this.

We’ll see if it works. We’ll see if anyone complains. Viva scientific experimentation.