A not-so-crazy pace of play solution

Baseball is at its best when there is movement in the game

February 21st, 2018

So you probably have seen the new pace of play rules that will be instituted this season. They seem pretty reasonable. The league and the players did not add a pitch clock, so that part was deferred, but there were a few changes agreed upon to speed things up.
1. The between-inning breaks will be sped up a little bit. Umpires will begin each half inning more quickly -- they will begin the inning-starting process with 20 seconds left in the break -- so if you're watching a game on television, you should see the first pitch within a few seconds of returning from a commercial.
2. Each team will be limited to six mound visits per game, not counting the visits to actually replace the pitcher or visits for injuries. That seems pretty good. I don't know too many fans of mound visits.
3. Pitching changes should be a little bit quicker.
4. Teams will get better access to instant replays, so they should be able to challenge plays more quickly.

None of those rules seems especially onerous -- really, they are all already in the spirit of the rules. I don't know how much time they will actually save, but in my mind, the point has never been "time." The point has been pace. I don't care if a game is three and a half or four hours if it is crisply played (though, admittedly, it's hard to imagine a crisply played four-hour game that is less than, say, 14 innings). Baseball has a nice unhurried rhythm, and it should never lose that.
But the game is also at its best when it is active, when everything moves, when the pitcher is throwing, when the batter is swinging, when the fielders are engaged. A lot of standing around isn't fun to watch, even for hardcore baseball fans.
I think the new rules will probably speed up the pace some.
• MLB announces pace of play initiatives for '18
But I'd like to offer up a couple of more dramatic rule changes. These will be, admittedly, controversial. But I really think they would help the pace of play.
Here goes:
Rule:When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call "Ball." The umpire shall also insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should be penalized by the umpire.
Sure, I know: That's harsh. Twelve seconds. That's not a lot of time. But I have faith. I think the pitchers can do it. And I think umpires should be given the authority to keep the game going, to get everything moving.
Here's another rule I've been thinking about -- well, it's not a rule, more like a directive:
Rule:Umpires shall encourage the on-deck batter to take position in the batter's box quickly after the previous batter reaches base or is put out. Umpires will not call "Time" at the request of the batter or any member of his team once the pitcher has started his windup or come to a set position, even though the batter claims "dust in his eyes," "steamed glasses," "didn't get the sign" or for any other cause.
Again, I realize this can be a little bit harsh. But as we try to speed up the game, this seems to me a concept that can quicken the pace of the game. Let's stop slowing things down between pitches.
• Players, managers react to changes
In addition to those admittedly contentious concepts, I'd make it illegal to intentionally delay the game by throwing the ball to players other than the catcher when the batter is in position, except in an attempt to retire a runner. Now, I admit that "attempt to retire a runner" is a bit vague -- you could make the argument that any throw to a base with a runner on is an "attempt to retire a runner." But I would give the umpire some latitude to decide if the pitcher is really trying to get an out or is just throwing to bases to slow down the game. If, after a warning by the umpire, such delaying action is repeated, the pitcher shall be removed from the game.

I assume by now you have either decided that none of this -- the 12-second pitch timer, the batter can't call timeout, the pitcher who throws repeatedly and pointless to bases can eventually be removed from the game -- is possible given the current climate of the game, or much more likely, you have figured something else out:
All of these are already in baseball's official rulebook. They've been rules for a long time. They have grown rusty from underuse, but they are there, and they are very real.
The 12-second rule was actually updated in 2005 -- it used to give pitchers 20 seconds after they got ball to pitch. That same year, the rule book gave umpires the freedom to make sure pitchers and hitters were ready to go as soon as the commercial break ended (they could call a ball or strike if they were not), gave the directive that visits to the mound should be done as quickly as possible, and essentially gave the umpires the authority to do what was necessary to keep the game moving.
Everybody understands at some level that baseball is just a better game when there's movement and action and a sense of urgency. Maybe, in the end, the game will need a clock and pressures and incentives to get the pace of play moving. But really, the rules are already in place. If everyone would believe in them, enforce them and generally abide by them, I think the pace of play problem would mostly go away.