There will be a few rule changes in Major League Baseball in 2015 in an attempt to speed up the pace of the game. MLB games average close to three hours as of years late, which is too long for some people to deal with. To counter the extended length of games, MLB decided to implement on field changes to shorten that time span; some are a good idea and others are infringing upon established norms that have become second nature for even the youngest of players.
The biggest rule change that will be in effect for Spring Training and the regular season is that hitters must keep one foot in the batter’s box in between pitches. This is not all that hard to do, but it could impact a hitter’s ability to get mentally focused if he has longer routines in and around the box. Players do not need to walk to the dugout and back in between every pitch, but they should also get some breathing room and a chance to take a practice swing if need be.
Hitters will still be allowed to step out of the box for longer moments between pitches, such as foul balls, wild pitches, and calling time before a pitch. We will have to wait and see just how much they will really be allowed. David Ortiz will not be a fan of this rule change for sure.
If you are an advocate of a faster pace of play, then this is the biggest of the rule changes. As both a player and a spectator, there is nothing that bothers me more than a player who steps out after every pitch and stretches, takes practice swings, and just stands in no man’s land for upwards of 15-20 seconds before getting back in the batter’s box. Everyone needs a breather here and there, but the repeated extended periods of idling outside the box are what this rule is really geared towards.
A downside to the ‘one foot in the box’ rule is that it will disrupt the mental battle between hitters and pitchers at times. When pitchers are in a rhythm and finding success, it is common practice for hitters to take their time at the plate and try to throw the pitcher’s rhythm off. This includes taking their time walking to the plate and in between pitches. Many players will still use those tactics in tight game situations and rightfully so. Mental preparation takes time and personal space, and most players need to go out of the box if even for only a few steps.
Would an ideal hitter never even leave the batter’s box? Here is a clip of what that would look like:
Many hitting coaches teach that once you step in the box you are completely focused and ready to hit. If a hitter has to keep a foot in the box at all times, it is difficult to stay mentally focused at that high of a level for the duration of an at-bat. We will see how well a universal rule works for so many unique batting routines. Rule changes like this may or may not stick.
Rule Changes for Pitchers
On the flip side for hitters, the pitchers will also have a new change of pace, just not at the Major League level. The minor leagues will have a pitch clock that will be enforced. This could get younger prospects in the mindset and routine of pitching faster, which is what MLB ultimately wants. I believe the reason they did not implement this rule for the Majors this season is that you would have a high percentage of pitchers who do not follow the clock, nor pay any attention to it. It is difficult to change the routine of a hitter, much less a pitcher. Rule changes like this will come with plenty of unhappy players set in their ways.
One timed pitching change that will be in effect for the Major Leagues is the length in between pitching changes. There will be a limit of around two and a half minutes to allow a pitcher to enter from the bullpen and throw his warm-up pitches and be ready to play. I’m not sure how big of an impact this will have on the overall pace of play, but it must have been enough for MLB to apply a rule change for it.
The other big rule change is that managers will be encouraged to challenge calls directly from the dugout rather than going on to the field to chat with umpires before a video team official can tell the manager to challenge a call or not. Major League Baseball brought on extended game times when it allowed for the review of plays and challenges to be made by managers, and now they are trying to find ways to fine tune the process and speed it up.
In football, teams have until the snap of the next play to challenge the previous play. However it is also uncommon practice to run out onto the field and argue with an official. Baseball could consider that managers have until the next pitch to challenge a call, but it wouldn’t matter since managers are allowed to call time to talk with an umpire. This should be an interesting rule change to watch, as the borderline calls that take time to review will be the ones that managers are deciding whether or not to challenge.
All of the rule changes for this season are geared towards speeding up the pace of games and shorten the overall time of games. Frankly, it seems pointless to go through so much nitpicking over five seconds here and ten seconds there to save a few minutes in a baseball game. But if the time reduction is successful this season, AND Major League officials can find a few more ways in future seasons to reduce time, then there could be a plausible benefit.
Are Rule Changes Worth Saving 10 Minutes in a Game?
The place to start all of the efforts to change rules to reduce game times needs to start in the Minor Leagues. That is where players are learning the game and preparing themselves for the Majors. While changes at the MLB level have to occur at some point, I think it would be more beneficial to use the new rules at the lower levels for a few years before implementing them at the highest level right away. One month of Spring Training is not enough to get Major League players the chance to change their routines to abide by new timed rules.
As it stands right now, Major League players have been groomed for The Show by doing things a certain way; that way has more or less been the same for decades. Now, by telling them to change what they do and speed everything up, it is a question of how the players and coaches respond to the demand of the rule changes.
One of the beauties of baseball is that there is no timer or game clock. In other sports, if you are losing after 60 minutes then you lose the game. In baseball, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” A game could essentially go on forever. Baseball games play themselves out and are not bound by the constraints of a clock. That’s how it used to be. Rule changes shouldn’t affect the outcome of a game because of made up time constraints.