Opening Day for some teams is on Sunday; The new MLB rule changes

As I’m sure y’all have heard, MLB officially announced the 2017 rule changes. This is the next step in commissioner Rob Manfred’s never ending quest to reduce dead time and increase action in games.

MLB is officially instating the automatic intentional walk, where just a signal from the dugout is needed to send a man to 1st base, and we can do away with the mind numbing, long, drawn out process of throwing four balls (did the sarcasm come through strongly enough on that?). In addition to that, some mild tweaks were made to replay, and managers now have only 30 seconds to decide if they want to challenge a call. Should a call be challenged, New York now only has 2 minutes to complete their review process and send a ruling back to the umps. There are, of course, exceptions to this 2-minute rule, and it really seems like more of a guideline than an actual rule. Additionally, if a manager is out of challenges, he can’t ask nicely for the umps to review a call on their own until the 8th (they could previously do this starting in the 7th).

In some non-pace of play related changes, they’ve also determined that no markers can be placed on the field to assist fielders in defensive positioning, 1st and 3rd base coaches now actually have to stay in the box that is painted on the field for them prior to a pitch being thrown, and there was a formalized interpretation of a rule regarding balks. (Side note, I feel like the formalization of this balk rule definitely means that Carter Capps officially balks every time he does his weird hopping pitching motion. We’ll see if they actually start giving guys a free base or if it’s ruled an illegal pitch. Anyone want to take bets on this?)

For the pace of play rules, giving managers 30 seconds to decide whether or not to challenge a call is at least a step in the right direction, although I feel that is still way too much time. I don’t feel managers should be allowed to review calls at all before deciding to challenge, but I know at least some of y’all disagree with me on that. Of note, Nationals bench coach Chris Speier stated at Winterfest that the decision to challenge or not often takes as long as it does because it takes about 30 seconds for the replay guys in the clubhouse to get the slow motion shots of the play in question. Looks like they’ll have to base their decision mostly on real speed footage from now on. It’ll be interesting to see what this does to decisions about whether or not to challenge. As for the two-minute guideline for the guys in New York, I don’t think that will change much of anything. Since there are exceptions built into the rule, I think they’ll continue to take their sweet time. I think there should be a hard time limit, and I recall reading that many of y’all feel the same way. I continue to believe that if it takes you that long to make a decision, you’re just guessing and the call on the field should stand. I am encouraged that the “I’m out of challenges so I’m going to ask nicely” challenge system has at least been pushed back by an inning, although I’d like to see that removed entirely. What’s the point of giving a certain number of challenges if you can then just sweet talk the ump and promise to take him out for ice cream if he looks at the play?

For those of y’all that watched the WBC, you no doubt noticed that there was no replay review system in the initial rounds. I have to say, it was pretty awesome, even when there was an occasional bad call. In the final two rounds, there was replay review, but there were no “challenges” – managers just simply asked the umps to review any play they wanted. While this lead to numerous reviews, it did eliminate the dead time of the team looking at the replay before deciding if they wanted the call reviewed or not. I feel like the games moved faster under this system, even with the numerous reviews that took place. I’d advocate for this to be how MLB operates in the future, but I feel like some managers would probably take advantage of it and things would get really out of hand pretty quickly. What did y’all think about how replay was handled during the WBC?

The 2017 changes will no doubt not satisfy Manfred and his need to speed things up. I continue to feel that it’s important for the players to take control of this situation and start dictating the conversation, rather than allowing it to be dictated to them. Since Manfred is clearly a man on a mission, the players do need to come up with some suggestions on their own. The easiest way to shave time off of a game and reduce “dead time” where nothing is happening without changing any aspect of the game itself is to cut down on commercials. If you reduced commercials by 15 seconds between innings, you’d save 4 minutes off the game, minimum. If you majorly cut down on the length of the commercial break when a reliever comes in mid-inning, you’d save significantly more (why does he need all that time? He should be ready to go). Cutting commercials was probably the top thing I saw y’all say when we’ve discussed this before. Unfortunately, cutting commercials cuts revenue, so we know this conversation won’t go anywhere. It’s the simplest solution, though, with zero impact to the game itself. Are you listening, Manfred?

One of the other big things I’ve heard y’all talk about is mound visits, which is something Manfred had tried to push through for this season. I think the players need to suck it up and come up with some way to limit this. Maybe the catcher can only visit each pitcher once. Maybe pitching changes can be a signal from the dugout rather than a slow walk to the mound by the manager. Maybe there can only be a finite number of total visits per game by anyone, like the number of timeouts in other sports. There are a million ways to pursue this, and I think it’s in the players’ best interest to have an open discussion about it and present something to Manfred in the offseason, otherwise they run the risk of him carrying through with his threat and implementing limitations of his own choosing.

As much as many of us don’t want the game to change at all, it’s clear that it’s going to. I think Manfred needs to be a little more forgiving of the players not rushing into a million changes to a game they’ve played a certain way their entire lives, but the players also need to step up and take control of all of this. The biggest thing that needs to happen is Manfred needs to set clearer expectations. He states that it’s not game length that matters, but game action and pace, however he uses game length as his yardstick to determine if he’s making any kind of progress. I think he needs to find a better way of measuring “success.” There also needs to be a point where enough is enough. You can’t constantly tinker with the game every single off-season from now until forever. Just ask NASCAR. They non-stop make changes, and it’s become awful. Manfred needs to clearly define a goal for his pace of play/pace of action initiatives, and come up with a benchmark for when he’s been successful. No one is going to embrace putting changes on the table if they think they’re going to constantly have to be putting ideas out there from now until the end of time. There needs to be some kind of end line, some place where Manfred is satisfied and can just let the game be for a bit while it absorbs all the changes that have been made, and while pace of action changes naturally work themselves out. Define success, Manfred, so everyone can find a way to work towards that. Don’t just push people towards what could be a bottomless abyss.

Oh, and throw the #*@%! ^#!!@%*&!%#&!^% four pitches for an intentional walk.

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