Since taking over as commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred has pushed through a number of measures designed to whittle down game times and improve pace of play. Already, we've seen hitters ordered to keep a foot in the box between pitches and a reduction in the amount of time between innings. Now, Manfred may be leveling his gaze on the major-league mound.
In a wide-ranging conversation with John Harper of the New York Daily News, Manfred addressed two possibilities -- the implementation of a "pitch clock" at the major-league level and potential limits on the use of relievers. On the first point, here's what Manfred said:
"The reason I like the clock is not that I'm looking to force somebody to do something, but I think it is a constant reminder of the need to move things along, and I think that's really important in terms of dealing with the pace-of-play issues.
"It's had great results in the minor leagues. Quantitative data shows that it made the games go faster, but equally important, players don't complain about it. They get used to it and they work within it."
As Manfred pointed out, the pitch clock has been in use in the minor leagues for a couple of years, and it's been a fairly non-intrusive presence that's possibly yielded desired results. By the sounds of things, pitch clocks are almost certainly headed to major-league ballparks, possibly in short order. These kinds of changes can be negotiated outside of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, so there's no need to wait for another four or five years.
Constraining the use of relievers would be a much bolder step, and Manfred is much less emphatic on that topic. However, consider the implications of this exchange with Harper:
"Look, people always posit these questions as: do you want to change the game? The fact of the matter is the game is changing on its own. You didn't used to see this type of activity (managers using multiple relievers to match up against hitters).
"I think the issue for us is: it's not change vs. no change. It's change that's organic or change that's managed, and I do believe we need to manage the way the game is changing a little more aggressively.''
Few things kill pace quite like a tactically involved manager, particularly those who play match-ups to excess with the 12- and even 13-man bullpens that are standard these days. Manfred and MLB could move to make relievers face more than one batter, limit the number of mid-inning pitching changes, or perhaps even tamp down on the number of pitchers on the active roster. Manfred's somewhat qualified comments suggest that such changes are necessarily in the immediate offing. They are, however, clearly on Manfred's mind, and that's a leading indicator of forthcoming change. Harper's piece also includes additional comments from Manfred on possible rule changes along those lines.
Don't be surprised if we see some additional steps taken before the start of the 2017 season. Consider yourself on notice, NL West champs.