In an attempt to address its gradual lengthening of games, Major League Baseball is testing out some pace-of-play initiatives during the Arizona Fall League. They make sense on paper, though as we've seen with the 12-second rule that's already in the books, enforcing these is a whole 'nother matter.
The measures are fair, in that they hold everybody accountable -- pitchers, hitters, catchers, managers and coaches. However, some will find these measures more confining than others, including one White Sox player in particular.
Listing them in order of drasticity -- which isn't a noun, but should be -- from least to most:
2:05 Inning Break Clock: There shall be a maximum 2:05 break between innings. Hitters must enter the batter's box by the 1:45 mark. When batters violate this rule, the Umpire may call an automatic strike. When batters are set by the appropriate time and pitchers fail to throw a pitch before the conclusion of the 2:05 period, the Umpire shall call a ball.
Those of us watching from home aren't going to notice it, except that every game may feel like a WGN broadcast, where the innings start as close to the first pitch as possible, and sometimes after it. This probably counts as bigger deal for production crews, especially if they're used to returning from commercials with sponsored features.
2:30 Pitching Change Break Clock: There shall be a maximum 2:30 break for pitching changes, including pitching changes that occur during an inning break. The first pitch must be thrown before the conclusion of the 2:30 period or the umpire shall call a ball. The clock shall start when the new pitcher enters the playing field (i.e., crosses the warning track, or foul line).
I'd rather see a little more time allotted for pitching changes, but with the clock starting after the manager makes the signal to the bullpen. Guys like Jonathan Papelbon will throw two more pitches before leaving the bullpen, and guys like Ronald Belisario will take big swigs of water and pause to steel themselves for whatever happens next. If Jose Valverde were still in the league, he'd probably compensate for having to hustle to the mound by extending his rituals before reaching the warning track.
20-second rule: A modified version of Rule 8.04, which discourages unnecessary delays by the pitcher, shall apply. Rule 8.04 requires the pitcher to deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball with the bases unoccupied. The penalty prescribed by Rule 8.04 for a pitcher's violation of the Rule is that the umpire shall call "Ball."
You'll have to read the article to get the full description, but Salt River Fields will have the equivalent of a shot clock that will be visible in both dugouts, behind home plate and the outfield. I don't like the idea of seeing a countdown before every pitch, because it's going to make it feel too much like football.
White Sox pitchers shouldn't have to worry about this, even if it does reach MLB parks. Working quickly is part of the pitching-development culture in Chicago. In terms of expediency, the White Sox finished only behind the Blue Jays in the American League. Considering Toronto has both Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, there's no shame in being second to them.
Three "Time Out" Limit: Each team shall be permitted only three "Time Out" conferences per game (including extra innings). Such conferences shall include player conferences with the pitcher (including the catcher), manager or coach conferences with the pitcher, and coach conferences with a batter. Conferences during pitching changes, and time outs called as a result of an injury or other emergency, shall not be counted towards this limit. A manager, coach or player will not be permitted to call a fourth time out in violation of this Rule. In such cases, the game will continue uninterrupted, and offenders may be subject to discipline.
If he were still physically able to catch, you could call this The Joe Mauer Rule. Maybe you still can. It makes a lot of sense to prevent die Mauers of the world from stopping play to talk to the pitcher every other batter, but I'd like to know if this includes the standard smaller discussions -- switching signs when a runner reaches second, or an infielder giving a heads-up about a baserunner. Those aren't particularly bothersome, although they might be abused if they were the only recourse for avoiding official timeouts.
No-Pitch Intentional Walks: In the event a team decides to intentionally walk a batter, no pitches shall be thrown. Instead, the manager shall signal to the home plate umpire with four fingers, and the batter should proceed to first base to become a runner.
This makes a ton of sense. Managers never change their minds once they call for intentional walk, so why delay the inevitable?
Problem is, once you've seen one intentional walk go awry in real time, it's hard to forfeit the chances of ever seeing something that special happen again. How can we deprive future generations of their Twirling Paul Konerko moment?
I'd just like to see fewer intentional walks, especially since the White Sox issue too many of them.
Batter's Box Rule: The batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter's box throughout his at-bat, unless one of a series of established exceptions occurs, in which case the batter may leave the batter's box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate. (Exceptions include a foul ball or a foul tip; a pitch forcing the batter out of the batter's box; "time" being requested and granted; a wild pitch or a passed ball; and several others.)
For most of us, this rule is terrific. It risks creating some unintended consequences (umpire-granted timeouts might become a battleground), but it directly addresses the issue of baseball players avoiding playing baseball. Look how much tension Joey Votto adds to what would've been a mundane plate appearance by never moving:
It's a good thing Konerko isn't around to see this, but this is bad news for the new clubhouse leader in dilly-dallying, Conor Gillaspie. Rick Hahn might want to consider moving him, not so much because he hit .183/.241/.279 over his last 32 games, but more because he might be distracted in the box if he can't futz with his pants outside of it