Major League Baseball has made game pace a priority this offseason, as it attempts to capture and re-capture some of its audience.
And rather than implement the changes at only the major league level (leaving players to adjust for the first time in the big leagues), changes will actually begin at Double-A and Triple-A. MiLB, in conjunction with MLB, announced pace-of-game of game rules that will begin in April with a grace period and enforced with penalty on May 1. You can see that link for the full rundown on the rules changes.
Brett has a good rundown of the changes at the MLB level here.
The minor league changes are actually even more substantial than the major league changes, highlighted by the biggy: the 20-second pitch clock.
Between pitching changes, a timer will count down the 2 minutes, 30 seconds a pitcher has to enter the game after crossing the foul line. Umpires will have the authority to start and reset the clock. Taking too long to make an appearance and throw the first pitch will result in a 1-0 count for the batter.
Inning breaks will be 2:25 and pitchers will be instructed to begin their wind-up or motion within the last 20 seconds of the 2:25 break. Pitchers failing to do so after May 1 will lead to a 1-0 count for batters. Inning breaks will begin after the last out of each inning, except when patriotic songs (i.e. God Bless America) are sung. In those cases, the clock will begin after the song ends.
The 20-second pitch clock has already seen positive returns, highlighted by a 2-hour, 14-minute game in the Arizona Fall League, as reported by SI.com. Cubs pitching prospect C.J. Edwards, who pitched in the AFL in 2014, said he didn’t have any issues with the pitch clock.
While the focus is on the effect the pitch clock will have on pitchers and batters, the onus will fall on catchers to keep the line moving and keep their pitchers in check.
With baseball players being creatures of habit, don’t expect changes to happen smoothly. This will likely be the biggest hurdle to overcome if the pace-of-game initiative is to work as intended.
Red Sox star David Ortiz voiced his displeasure with some of the big league pace-of-game initiatives early in spring training:
On the other hand, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and All-Star third baseman Matt Carpenter are in favor of change:
AFL games that used the more significant pace-of-game initiatives saw average game times dip from 2:52 to 2:39. It’s a small sample size of games, but the fact that there is the slightest change in game time shows something is working.
All things considered, progress is progress. And at the crux of these changes, in particular, is an attempt to ease the baseball players of tomorrow into what they will be experiencing when they make it to The Show. In other words, it seems unlikely that MiLB would make such aggressive pace-of-game rules changes at the minor league level unless they thought it could someday come to MLB, too.
How these minor league changes impact games, and how they might eventually apply to big league game situations remains to be seen. The post-2016 CBA looms large.