The long-awaited pace-of-play changes have landed, and … eh, there’s not a ton here. It seems like, for now, the players digging in their heels may have paid off, because it looks like these were agreed-upon changes.
The big news is that there will be no pitch clock (or batter clock) in 2018, though MLB seems to be holding open the possibility in the future by putting a generic onus on the players to “speed up the game without the use of those timers.” My guess? MLB will point to the pace not really improving this season with respect to time between pitches, and they’ll say, “Hey, we gave you a chance last year, you didn’t do it, so here’s the clock for 2019.”
The limitation on mound visits, unlike the clock, will be put in place right away, much to the chagrin of many managers and pitchers and catchers. In short, any visit to the mound counts as a visit, and you get six of them during the game, total, when you don’t remove the pitcher. It’s not a lot. You get an extra one for each extra inning, and you also get an extra one if there’s a genuine cross-up in the signs, as determined by the home plate umpire. (There doesn’t appear to be a penalty listed for going over the mound visit limit, but I guess umps will just tell you to stop right there? That could lead to some drama.)
The Cubs will be as impacted by this change as any team, strictly speaking, since the rule applies equally to everyone. But it sure seems like Willson Contreras is a big fan of mound visits.
Also, MLB is making their inning change timers more official and more strict, so there will be less dead time at the beginnings and endings of innings.
“Major League Baseball on Monday announced rule changes for the 2018 championship season designed to improve the pace of play. After receiving substantial input from the Major League Baseball Players Association and Club personnel, MLB’s Competition and Playing Rules Committees recommended that Commissioner Rob Manfred proceed with a rule change limiting the number of mound visits in a game and a rule designed to reduce the time required for inning breaks and pitching changes. The Commissioner has decided to defer the implementation of a pitch timer and a between-batter timer in 2018 in order to provide players with an opportunity to speed up the game without the use of those timers.
Commissioner Manfred said: “I am pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with the Players Association to take concrete steps to address pace of play with the cooperation of players. My strong preference is to continue to have ongoing dialogue with players on this topic to find mutually acceptable solutions.”
The Commissioner’s Office also is taking steps to expedite the replay review process and to deter sign-stealing through the use of electronic equipment. MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to meet during the 2018 championship season to continue to discuss pace of play. A full description of the 2018 changes is attached hereto.
Summary of 2018 Rule Changes
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).
2. 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
1. 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:
a. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
IV. 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.”