Picking Up the Pace

Change is good — just not too much. That’s what most baseball players would say. We’re not against change, we just don’t want anything to threaten the integrity and competition of our game. So when Major League Baseball  announced new pace -of-play rules for 2015 to help speed up the game, it likely caused some grumbling in MLB clubhouses.

Of the three pace-of-play rule changes, one is that managers must stay in the dugout during instant replays. The other two directly impact players and the flow of the game:

1. Hitters must keep at least one foot in the batter’s box during an at-bat (though there are exceptions).

2. There will be a clock for pitching changes and TV commercial breaks. It will be 2:25 for local broadcasts and 2:45 for nationally televised games. When the clock counts down to the 30-second mark, the pitcher can no longer throw warmup pitches, and the pitcher and hitter must get set to start the next inning.

Let’s dive into how these two rules will actually impact players and gameplay.

Hitters must keep one foot in the batter’s box during an at-bat

First things first: There are a handful of exceptions for this rule, so it’s not like guys are going to be out there like pitching machines, throwing pitches every 10 seconds in rapid succession. This is just a rule to trim off the dead time hitters create when they step out of the box.

The exceptions include brushback pitches, pickoff moves and if a batter swings at a pitch or fouls a ball off, among others, so this rule won’t come into effect on every pitch. But at times, this rule could potentially benefit pitchers.

The pitcher always has an advantage when the pace is high because the hitter has less time to break the pitcher’s rhythm. The pitcher already dictates a lot, but if you have a pitcher who’s working fast and being effective, a hitter will take his time to try and break that rhythm. It’s the game within the game. Now, there aren’t as many chances for hitters to shake up that pace.

We have a couple of guys on our team who take a lot of time outside the batter’s box. It’s just a part of their routine, and it lets them set a tempo they’re comfortable with. This rule is definitely going to throw some guys off.

Timed Pitching Changes/Commercial Breaks

I always liked the fact that baseball doesn’t have a clock. That’s what sets it apart from every other sport. So I’m not a huge fan of the clock going in to measure time between innings and pitching changes. However, I do think it’s good compromise because it’s going to hold everybody accountable — from umpires to broadcasters to players — to get back and ready to play in a timely manner.

For starting pitchers, beating the between-inning clock won’t be too big of an issue. I remember playing with Chris Carpenter in St. Louis. He was quick to get back out on the mound. As soon as the last out was made on the other side, he was already out there. He’d have no problem with a 2:25 or 2:45 clock. He’d be ready to roll. But not everybody’s like that. Some guys want to get up, take their time, get a drink, towel off and then trot back out there. It’s more about changing habits than changing the game, which just takes some time.

There are exceptions to this rule, such as if the pitcher or catcher is at the plate, on deck or on base at the change of the inning. This will avoid situations where the pitcher or catcher has to really hustle to get back in time to get some warmup pitches in.

As a relief pitcher, it will only affect me a little because I’m already warming up in the bullpen before I come in. In most cases, I have to jog in from the outfield, so as long as I make sure I’m ready to get on the field right when I’m called, it shouldn’t have a huge impact.

Much like the batter’s box rule, some players will be affected simply because their personal style is a little slower — mostly veterans. That’s what it comes down to: comfort.

There was a lot of talk about Rob Manfred making changes when he took over for Bud Selig as MLB Commissioner. A lot of potential rule changes were thrown around, but the MLB is taking the right course of action by making small tweaks. It’s much easier to pull back if you push it too far. Players will be more receptive to change in small doses. We’re pretty careful of what we agree to.

Remember, change is good. Just not too much.