Minor League Baseball's new pace of play rules someday could reach the majors
Pitch clocks, mound visit caps, and automatic baserunners, oh my
On Wednesday, Minor League Baseball announced new pace-of-play rules that will be implemented in time for the new season. These rules concern three main areas: mound visits, extra innings, and a pitch clock.
It's important to keep up with these kinds of things because it's possible they eventually make their way to Major League Baseball -- heck, mound visit limits already have. Commissioner Rob Manfred is obsessed with improving the pace of play, and it wouldn't be too surprising to see him toy with instituting a pitch clock or automatic baserunners beginning in the 10th inning.
With that in mind, here's what you need to know about each of the rule changes. You can read more about them by visiting MILB's official site.
Predictably, MILB is following in MLB's footsteps by limiting the number of times teams can gather at the mound. The difference is that MILB is foremost about development, meaning they're more accommodating to the lower levels. To wit, Triple-A teams will be permitted six mound visits per game (with one additional for every extra inning); Double-A teams eight; Single-A 10; and that's that. Short-season and rookie-ball teams won't have to worry about it.
What constitutes a mound visit in the minors? Take a look at MILB's definition:
A manager or coach trip to the mound to meet with the pitcher shall constitute a visit. A player leaving his position to confer with the pitcher, including a pitcher leaving the mound to confer with another player, shall also constitute a mound visit, regardless of where the visit occurs or the length of the visit, except that the following shall not constitute mound visits:
a. Discussions between pitchers and position player(s) that (i) occur between batters in the normal course of play and do not require either the position player(s) or the pitcher to relocate;
b. Visits by position players to the mound to clean spikes in rainy conditions;
c. Visits to the mound due to an injury or potential injury of the pitcher; and
d. Visits to the mound after the announcement of an offensive substitution.
For those wondering, there is no listed penalty for a team who attempts to make an additional mound visit. There is, however, a provision that states a capped-out catcher can ask the umpire for permission to visit the mound in cases where the two are mixed up on their signs. Surely no one will take advantage of that rule -- not in a good and honorable sport like baseball.
Those familiar with the World Baseball Classic already know where this is going -- yes, each team will receive an automatic baserunner at second base to begin each half-inning starting with the 10th inning. Here's the full explanation of the rule, per MILB:
At all levels of Minor League Baseball, extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. The runner at second base will be the player in the batting order position previous to the leadoff batter of the inning (or a substitute for that player). By way of example, if the number five hitter in the batting order is due to lead off the 10th inning, the number four player in the batting order (or a pinch-runner for such player) shall begin the inning on second base. Any runner or batter removed from the game for a substitute shall be ineligible to return to the game, as is the case in all circumstances under the Official Baseball Rules.
Of course, the biggest annoyance with this rule -- except, perhaps, its existence -- is that teams like to bunt that runner over to third base. It would almost make sense, then, to give each team the option of beginning the inning with a runner on second with nobody out or a runner on third with one out. At minimum, it would speed up the process a bit.
MILB notes that the baserunner will be treated as if he reached on an error without actually awarding the defensive team an error -- meaning, in the simplest terms, that he won't count toward the pitcher's ERA if he scores.
Last but not least, we reach the pitch clock -- or "pitch timer" as MILB calls it.
Pitchers will have 15 seconds to begin their delivery when nobody is on base and 20 seconds to begin their delivery when someone is on base. When will the clock start? When the pitcher has the ball within the pitching circle, the catcher is in the catcher's box, and the batter is on the dirt circle around the plate.
If the pitcher fails to begin his delivery within the allotted times, the batter will be awarded a ball. If the batter isn't in the batter's box with seven seconds left on the clock, then a strike will be awarded.
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