Two years ago, Major League Baseball implemented new rules designed to improve the pace of play. Players were not allowed to step out of the batter's box after taking a pitch, and a clock was added to ensure play began immediately at the end of commercial breaks.
As a result, the average time of game dropped six minutes from 2014 to 2015. That's hardly noticeable when you're watching a game live, but every little bit counts. Much to MLB's chagrin, the average time of game increased four minutes from 2015 to 2016. Not what the league had in mind.
Needless to say, improving the pace of play is still a top priority for commissioner Rob Manfred. Here's what he told Bob Nightengale of USA Todayat the quarterly owners' meetings in Palm Beach, Florida, on Friday:
"I will say that pace of play is an issue that we need to be focused on,'' Manfred said. "And the 'we' there is players, owners, umpires ... everyone who is invested in this game.
"I don't think there's a magic bullet that is going to come one year and that's going to be the solution to pace of play. It's going to be an ongoing effort to make sure our game moves along in the way in the way that is most attractive to our fans."
Two years ago, the league tested a 20-second pitch clock in the Arizona Fall League, which was later adopted at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. The pitch clock dropped the average time of game 16 minutes in the Triple-A International League from 2014 to 2015. It was 13 minutes in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
The players' union has strongly opposed a pitch clock at the major-league level. Simply put, pitchers don't want to be rushed on the mound. They want to think things through before executing a pitch.
Also, there is some concern pitchers could get hurt if they have to speed things up while on the mound.
The goal of improving pace of play is not necessarily shortening games. That's a byproduct. The league wants to cut down on dead time within the game itself, such as when the hitter steps out of the batter's box to adjust his batting gloves. Limiting mound visits could be one potential solution.
I love baseball as much as anyone, but there are definitely times when games drag and there's not much action going on. These days it's easy for fans to be sidetracked by looking at their phones, so I understand why MLB wants to speed up play. They want everyone's attention on the game itself.
Pace of play is very much a work in progress and it's going to require the players buying in. Clearly, it is still something Manfred and MLB wants to improve, especially after the average time of game ticked back up in 2016.