As MLB rightfully looks into ways to speed up the pace of play, there's one thing I never see mentioned that I believe specifically is a problem: Excessive player visits to the mound, mostly by the catcher.
I started to really think about this during Game 1 of the NLCS, notably during the Cubs' eighth inning that included Miguel Montero's grand slam, followed by Dexter Fowler's solo job. Combine the huge inning with the top half when the Dodgers rallied to tie the game and we had a 41-minute inning.
Just for the sake of context, if every inning took that long a nine-inning game would run six hours and 11 minutes.
Obviously innings are built differently than periods or quarters in other sports. Some are 10 minutes. Some have lots of scoring and several pitching changes.
But 41 minutes?
It wasn't just that the Dodgers scored two runs while the Cubs scored five. That's a big inning, sure, but it isn't historically outrageous. One thing that spread it out -- in addition to the multiple pitching changes -- was the number of player visits to the mound. The Dodgers had a catcher-pitcher meeting for every single Cubs' hitter. You might not have noticed it on TV due to the ads, highlights and other things the FS1 broadcast was doing during the down time, but I was there and it happened.
Think about that for a second: A conference on the hill for every single hitter? How about knowing and trusting a game plan?
This isn't just a Dodgers problem, especially in the postseason. As that particular series wore on, the Cubs' catchers got into the habit of doing more and more. And, again, this game was only the vehicle for explaining why we could stand to see fewer catcher-pitcher mound visits.
To me, this seems like an easy avenue to cut down on long game times, especially in the postseason when casual fans are tuning in and could end up tuning out when nine-inning games last well over four hours.
How could baseball work with this?
My initial idea is to include any visit to the mound with manager visits, absent a home run -- the catcher can easily run the ball out and have a few words while the opposing player is rounding the bases -- or an injury. So if a catcher has to call time and run out to the mound to sort through a cross-up, that counts as a visit.
Now, as things stand we know that two manager visits in an inning means the pitcher must be removed. If we're gonna lump in player visits with those, we can increase the allowed number of visits to two, meaning three total and the pitcher needs to be removed.
I'd actually be for leaving it at two and including every visit, but baby steps need to be taken when you're discussing altering player approach. Catchers surely wouldn't love having their mound visits so severely limited, for example, so we'll give them an extra one.
So long as we approach this logically, it should be a pretty easy sell. Just imagining someone arguing that a catcher should be allowed to visit the pitcher as many times as he wants seems outlandish. Why does he really need to go out there to speak with his pitcher during an at-bat three times in an inning? Or more than that?
While we're here, I'd be open to limiting the number of manager visits per game instead of per inning, too. Something like three visits for the manager total while enforcing the visits-per-inning-by-anyone rule concurrently would definitely speed things up a bit.
These are professionals. They prepare mentally for the game. They need to be on the same page, increase conversations between innings and just do a better job overall of not needing to discuss things so often while the inning is going. Making fans sit through upwards of eight visits in a half-inning isn't a good way to keep the attention of those casual fans who might not want to spend all night watching a baseball game.