Testing the waters to improve pace of games
Automatic intentional walks, fewer warmup pitches to be tried out in Atlantic League
As a general manager, Pat Gillick's teams won three World Series and nine division titles. For that, as well as his previous work as a scout, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame three years ago.
These days, in addition to being a senior advisor for the Phillies, Gillick is working on his latest passion. He is a member of a committee that this week made recommendations to the independent Atlantic League designed to improve the pace of games. The league will begin implementing those ideas next week.
Gillick hopes that the experiments will be useful to Major League Baseball, which will be monitoring the impact of the numerous changes the Atlantic League will try out. It will be an opportunity for everyone to see how the ideas actually work under game conditions.
"If they show some incremental decrease in the time of game, it's something that Major League Baseball might want to consider," Gillick said.
The committee, headed by former Astros president Tal Smith, also included D-backs special assistant Roland Hemond and former big leaguers Sparky Lyle, Bud Harrelson and Cecil Cooper. The recommendations will be put into effect after the league's umpires have an opportunity to go through orientation sessions.
Here are the six steps the Atlantic League will take:
1. Once the weather gets warm, pitchers starting an inning or coming in to relieve will get six warmup pitches instead of the customary eight.
2. Instead of throwing four pitches, intentional walks will be issued automatically when the manager or catcher indicates that intent to the plate umpire.
3. When any catcher reaches base, regardless of the number of outs, he will be replaced by a courtesy runner. The intention is to allow the backstop to get to the dugout and have all his equipment on when the inning ends so he's ready to go back on the field as soon as the half-inning is over.
4. The manager, pitching coach, catcher and/or infielder are limited to three "timeouts" to visit the mound during a game. Each subsequent visit requires a pitching change. There will be one extra "timeout" added for extra innings. Such visits should not last more than one minute.
5. The umpires will be directed to enforce Rule 6.02 (which limits a hitter's ability to step in and out of the batter's box) and Rule 8.04 (which requires that a pitcher deliver the ball within 12 seconds when there are no runners on base).
6. Umpires will be encouraged to call the strike zone as it's written in the rule book. As a practical matter, that would make the strike zone larger. In theory, it will encourage hitters to be more aggressive.
"There are already rules on the books," Gillick said. "I liken it to going to court, and you know who's in charge. You know what the pace of the trial is going to be by the way the judge sets out the rules. And I think the umpire has some control over the pace of the game and how fast it's going to be played."
More radical changes were discussed but were tabled for the time being.
"I'm a purist," Gillick said. "I don't want to do anything that would affect the purity of the game."
Atlantic League president Joe Klein, a former GM of the Rangers, Tigers and Indians, also sat on the committee. He said the average time of a game so far this year has been two hours and 59 minutes.
"We would like to get under 2:45," Klein said. "Maybe in the 2:40 or 2:35 range. We're also going to try to educate our players on why we're doing these things. And if something turns out that it's not what it should be, it's real easy for us to go back to where we were and take a look at the next thing."