If you're one of the folks who's been complaining about baseball games taking too long, and not having nearly four hours of free time to spend at a ball park on a school night, then I have some good news for you. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred hears your cries!
Yesterday, the erstwhile commissioner of our national pastime announced some new rules designed to speed up the game of baseball and shave a few minutes off of the overall game experience (because we all have so many important things to be doing between 11 p.m. and midnight on a weeknight in July). The entire litany of new tweaks to the game centers around everything from shortening breaks between innings to providing better equipment for faster replay review.
However, the one area of change that had everyone in the Houston Astros clubhouse talking was the list of rules surrounding the reduction of non-pitching change mound visits during a game. In general, now teams will be limited to just six visits, not including pitching changes, to the mound during a game. These six visits include any visit by a manager, coach, infielder, or catcher.
Here are the specific rules, per MLB.com:
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.
So there you go. Bringing this back around to Houston, if you recall during the World Series, it felt like catcher Brian McCann was making six visits to the mound every INNING when the games were in crunch time, and to Manfred's point with these rules, that was a big reason why we were all up until midnight watching baseball last October (not that I'm complaining, but I know some of you, especially those with kids, are nodding your heads).
So this is a fairly sizable change that will force adaptation quickly with pitchers, catchers, and managers, functional adaptation and maybe even technological adaptation, such as radio microphones inside catchers' masks. As you can imagine, Astros pitchers were not happy with these rule changes.
Let's start with Astros player rep Collin McHugh, who makes it clear that these amendments were not a mutually agreed to initiative with players and the commissioner:
#Astros player rep Collin McHugh on MLB's pace of play initiative from Commissioner Rob Manfred:"It sounded like from what Rob was saying he was alluding to the fact it was a players & Major League joint initiative..That was not the case.The players did not agree to these rules" pic.twitter.com/fjX37hrlUy— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) February 20, 2018
Next, Dallas Keuchel stands by McHugh' contentions, and calls the rule changes "borderline ridiculous:
Now, here's Justin Verlander — have I mentioned how awesome it is to have him in an Astros uniform in the month of February? — giving plenty of insight on where he stands with the new rules:
.@JustinVerlander on MLB pace of play rules on max 6visits to mound by staff/players:"If you're going to make adjustments I personally don't think limiting mound visits between a catcher & pitcher is the way to go..If there's a cross-up n signs those guys (catchers) can get hurt" pic.twitter.com/vrkRwOc1bx— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) February 19, 2018
.@JustinVerlander on MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred's pace of play initiative: "It's frustrating. We don't like it. We voiced our opinion, loud and clear, but he's within his rights to do this...Good or bad, it's on him." pic.twitter.com/3Axq6jyxsX— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) February 19, 2018
.@JustinVerlander says when it comes to pace of play most players think it's fine, but wouldn't mind the game being sped up "done in the right way, not putting a Band-Aid on it. Sign stealing is what I think is the biggest thing personally." pic.twitter.com/kXpQTq5yup— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) February 19, 2018
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So, there's a lot there, especially from Verlander, and he makes great points about the potential danger that miscommunication (or in this case, enforced lack of communication) could have for pitchers and, especially, catchers.
It will be fascinating to watch how baseball adapts to reducing something that I think most everyone took for granted as "just part of the game" — mound visits. Will infielders try to sneak quasi-visits in by getting close-but-not-too-close to the mound to chat? How will managers ration the visits during a game? Most intriguing to me is how forgiving will umpires be with catcher request after the six visits have been used up, so that he and the pitcher can be on the same page and avoid the danger Verlander alludes to?
However it turns out, just know, baseball fans, that you have a commissioner that wants to help you get your kids to bed before midnight.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.