We’re just over a month away from the start of the 2018 Major League Baseball regular season. And if all goes as planned, fans will be spending less time at the ballpark (and if front of the television) watching it.
That’ll actually be a good thing.
Each February the lords of baseball consider rules changes, and make a tweak here and there when needed. This year the primary objective of Commissioner Rob Manfred and the gang is to speed up the game.
Let’s hope they have better luck this season than last.
Manfred was determined to shave off running time in 2017, too, but even making intentional walks automatic and shortening the window for managers to challenge calls didn’t help.
Just over 10 years ago an average MLB baseball game took about two hours and 45 minutes to play, which is fine.
In 2017, it took three hours and eight minutes.
That’s not fine.
As I’ve said before, if I’m going to sit through something that lasts more than three hours, Francis Ford Coppola better be directing it. And now that I’m out of the daily newspaper grind, I can actually watch – and enjoy – big league ball.
(That’s a side effect of being a sportswriter who also has office hours. Unless you cover an MLB team, you don’t actually see a lot of MLB games).
As for the rule alterations, I don’t think any of us wants to see “less” baseball; several years ago the Wall Street Journal did a study that determined the amount of action in an MLB game totals around 18 minutes.
But while we fans are fine with the slow-moving pace of the contest itself, the real time of a nine inning affair could use some streamlining.
Instant replay, endless mound visits and – thanks to TV – long commercial breaks, have turned watching baseball into quite a time investment.
So, if you have some time to kill and want to read them as written (courtesy of MLB.com), here are the changes for 2018:
- I) Mound Visits
A. 2018 Championship Season. Mound visits without a pitching change shall be limited to six (6) per team, per nine innings. For any extra-innings played, each Club shall be entitled to one additional non-pitching change mound visit per inning.
B. OBR 5.10(l). Official Baseball Rule 5.10(l), which governs mound visits by a manager or coach, remains in effect (i.e., a pitcher must be removed on the second visit by a manager/coach in an inning).
- Definition of Mound Visit.A manager or coach trip to the mound to meet with the pitcher shall constitute a visit. A player leaving his position to confer with the pitcher, including a pitcher leaving the mound to confer with another player, shall also constitute a mound visit, regardless of where the visit occurs or the length of the visit, except that the following shall not constitute mound visits:
A. Discussions between pitchers and position player(s) that (i) occur between batters in the normal course of play and do not require either the position player(s) or the pitcher to relocate;
B. Visits by position players to the mound to clean spikes in rainy conditions;
C. Visits to the mound due to an injury or potential injury of the pitcher; and
D. Visits to the mound after the announcement of an offensive substitution.
- 3. Cross-Up in Signs.In the event a team has exhausted its allotment of mound visits in a game (or extra inning) and the home plate umpire determines that the catcher and pitcher did not have a shared understanding of the location or type of pitch that had been signaled by the catcher (otherwise referred to as a “cross-up”), the home plate umpire may, upon request of the catcher, allow the catcher to make a brief mound visit. Any mound visit resulting from a cross-up prior to a team exhausting its allotted number of visits shall count against a team’s total number of allotted mound visits.
- II) Inning Breaks and Pitching Changes
Time of Break. The timer will count down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised championship season games, from 2:25 for breaks in nationally televised championship season games, and from 2:55 for tie-breaker and postseason games as follows:
Time Remaining | Required Action
25 seconds: Umpire signals pitcher to complete last warmup pitch.
20 seconds: Batter’s announced and must leave on-deck circle, batter walk-up music shall begin, and pitcher shall complete last warmup pitch.
0 seconds: Pitcher must begin motion to deliver first pitch.
- The pitcher may take as many warm-up pitches as he desires, but regardless of how many warm-up pitches he has thrown, he must deliver his final warm-up pitch at least 20 seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change. OBR 5:07 will be revised to reflect that pitcher is not guaranteed eight warm-up pitches.
B. The umpire shall signal for the last warm-up pitch at 25 seconds, unless a special circumstance (as described below) applies.
C. The batter must leave the on-deck circle and proceed directly to the batter’s box when the pitcher throws his final warm-up pitch.
D.The pitcher must begin his motion for the first pitch as soon as the batter steps into the box and is alert to the pitcher; provided, however, the pitcher cannot begin his motion for the first pitch more than five seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change so that television is ensured to be back from commercial break.
- Special Circumstances. A Player will be excused from following the time limits set forth above if the umpire determines that any of the following special circumstances are present:
A. There is a delay in normal warm-up activities during the inning break due to no fault of the Players (e.g., injury or other medical emergency, equipment issues, playing field or grounds crew issues);
B. The umpire believes the pitcher is at a legitimate risk of injury if he does not receive additional time to throw warm-up pitches;
C.The umpire believes the batter is at a legitimate risk of injury if he does not receive additional time to enter the batter’s box;
D.Any other special circumstances which, in the umpire’s judgment, warrant allowing the pitcher to throw after the deadline.
- Start of Timer for Inning Breaks
A.Last Out of Inning. The timer shall start on the last out of an inning for an inning break.
B.Close Plays/Replay Review. The Field Timing Coordinator shall delay the start of the timer if the final out of the inning is a close play that may be reviewed by instant replay. If the final out of the inning is determined in instant replay, the timer shall start as soon as the out is signaled by the umpire.
C. Pitcher or Catcher On Base/On Deck. If a pitcher ends an inning on base, on deck, or at bat, the timer shall reset when the pitcher leaves the dugout for the mound. If a catcher ends the inning on base, on deck, or at bat, the timer will reset when the catcher enters the dugout (and another catcher must begin warming up the pitcher).
4. Start of Timer for Pitching Changes
A. Pitcher Crosses Warning Track. The pitching change timer shall begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens) to enter the game. In the case of a pitching change that occurs during an inning break, the timer shall reset if previously started as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens).
B. Relief Pitchers Must Promptly Leave Bullpen. Relief pitchers shall leave the bullpen promptly following an appropriate signal by their manager or coach. During the playing of God Bless America, or any other extended inning event previously approved by the Office of the Commissioner, the timer will begin at the conclusion of the song or event.
5. Enforcement. Umpires shall direct players and enforce the inning break and pitching change time limits on the field. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline for just cause by the Office of the Commissioner pursuant to Article XI(C) of the Basic Agreement. III. Batter’s Box Rule
The batter’s box rule that was in effect during the 2017 season will remain in effect during the 2018 season.
- Video Replay Review
The following adjustments will be made to the video replay technology:
A.Install capability for all Club video review rooms to receive direct slow motion camera angles for the 2018 championship season;
B. Install new phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout, and monitor the communications over those lines to prevent their use for sign-stealing.
Manfred had hoped to add a 20-second pitch clock as well as a between-batter clock for this season, but the MLB Players Association pushed back on those ideas.
The between-inning breaks might help some, although I can’t see it saving more than two or three minutes, tops.
The best chance to keep the game moving is faster instant replay reviews, although I could do without them altogether.
Nobody wants the guys in blue to determine a game and certainly bad calls suck (especially if they go against your team), but I can live with human error.
It has a certain charm.
The game is, after all, played by humans and those humans make errors all the time (just ask the Oakland Athletics, who committed a league-high 121 errors in 2017).
But unless you play it or coach it, sports is entertainment, and with so many entertainment options, you need to make your sport worth watching.
Length of games has damn near killed my enjoyment of college football, and I don’t want to reach the point where I start getting bored with a baseball game in the seventh inning.
That’s a right exclusive to L.A. Dodgers fans.
But we won’t know how things play out until they play ball, so here’s hoping Major League Baseball can master the under three hours thing in 2018.
I want to become a serious fan again.
It’s up to baseball to make it worth my time.