Following an offseason in which concerns about ever-growing game times emerged as hot-button issues, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association announced new policies aimed at reducing game times by shortening the breaks between innings, the time required for instant replay, and the quirk-filled out-of-the-batter’s-box moments between pitches. Violations will earn warnings and fines, in the case of “flagrant violations,” according to a press release. Neither warnings nor fines will be levied in spring training or April of this season.
“The Pace of Game Committee wants to take measured steps as we address this industry goal to quicken the pace of our great game,” said Atlanta Braves President and Chairman of the league’s Pace of Game Committee John Schuerholz in a statement released Friday. “It is not an objective of ours to achieve a dramatic time reduction right away; it is more important to develop a culture of better habits and a structure with more exact timings for non-game action.”
Beginning this season, half-inning breaks will be limited to 2 minutes, 25 seconds for locally televised games and 2 minutes, 45 seconds for nationally televised ones. A timer will count down these breaks, of which the final 40 seconds will be carefully rationed: with 40 seconds left, the batter will be announced and his walk-up music started. Thirty seconds to go will signal the pitcher’s final warm-up pitch, and with 20 to 5 seconds left, the batter must enter the batter’s box.
The time spent on a pitching change will also be limited by this clock. Pitchers trot in from the bullpen at various speeds to take their allotted eight warm-up pitches. Under new rules, any of those pitches not taken when 30 seconds are left on the clock will be forfeited. For pitchers such as Nationals right-hander Craig Stammen, who says he often finds himself waiting with warm-up pitches complete for the television broadcasts to return from commercial, the clock won’t be a problem.
“I don’t mind it,” said Stammen, who — like the other Nationals players in Viera Friday — had yet to be fully informed about the rule changes and just heard about them indirectly. “It’ll be a good thing. I don’t think it’s a big deal to speed the process up a bit instead of just jacking around wasting time.”
Newly acquired veteran reliever Casey Janssen, who endured what can be gruelingly long games in the American League East for his entire career, said he would be concerned for players whose jogs in from the bullpen take a bit longer than others.
“Everybody’s different. I’ll joke with him, he’s retired now, but the pace that Darren Oliver [who pitched with Janssen in Toronto in 2012 and 2013 at age 41 and 42] runs to the mound and some young 23-year-old runs to the mound might be significantly different,” Janssen said. “To say that a certain pitcher has to run with a certain tempo to get to the mound so he gets his allotted warm-up pitches is such a silly rule, especially if at the end of the day you want to make sure he’s loose so he doesn’t get an arm injury.”
Another key component of Friday’s announced changes is that batters must keep at least one foot in the batter’s box after every pitch unless one of a few listed exceptions should occur. Those exceptions include a batter swinging at a pitch, faking a bunt, being forced from the batter’s box by a pitch, or either side calling time.
Nine-inning major league games averaged longer than three hours each last season for the first time in history. If the goal is to dip back below that three-hour mark, making batters keep one foot in the batter’s box likely won’t accomplish that on its own. In addition to the fact that time spent by antsy batters between pitches doesn’t sum to much time relative to the game’s overall length, one should note that those seconds are not necessarily reduced just because a player has a foot in the box. Some of the most talented dawdlers of the television era — like Human Rain Delay Mike Hargrove or maddening adjuster Nomar Garciaparra — did the bulk of their dawdling with a foot firmly planted in the batter’s box.
The league also announced changes to instant replay, which can now be used to challenge whether a player left early when tagging up. Unlike last season, when managers would regain a challenge only after one won challenge, managers will now keep a challenge available after every won challenge. A lost challenge will still mark the manager’s final challenge attempt for that game.
Finally, and most relevant to the pace-of-game changes with which it was announced, the most significant replay change will be to allow managers to call for a replay from the dugout, rather than as they meander around a paralyzed field waiting for their decision. This, too, should eliminate some unnecessary delays from the game, though hardly enough to impact the league’s average time of game dramatically.
“I think baseball can be as fast or slow as you want to make it,” Janssen said. “There’s a lot of strategy that goes into the game, and from that standpoint, if you’re a thinker, the game is still played very quickly even at the pace it’s at. If you’re looking at butterflies and can’t wait for the next jumbotron, it can be slow.”
In an unrelated happening that should nevertheless impact game times across Major League Baseball next season, well-respected but ultra-deliberate umpire Tim McClelland announced his retirement Friday after more than three decades as a big league official, according to the league. McClelland’s most infamous claim to fame was as the umpire who overturned George Brett’s 1983 home run because Brett’s bat was covered in illegal amounts of pine tar. He was also known for excruciatingly slow strike calls that required a full 90-degree turn and point every time.