Major League Baseball released several significant pace-of-play rule changes on Feb. 20, designed to speed up the pace and flow of the game to make it more exciting for viewers. These changes will go into effect in spring training as well as the start of the 2015 season.
Here are the four new rules, as reported by Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports:
- Managers must make instant replay challenges from the dugout, rather than the field. This should eliminate the on-field delays that occurred in 2014 while managers chatted with umpires while waiting for coaches or video coordinators to recommend whether a play should be challenged.
- Hitters must keep one foot in the batter’s box between pitches, unless an established exception occurs. It’s not clear how many exceptions will exist, but during a trial run in the 2014 Arizona Fall League, those conditions included foul balls, foul tips, time being granted by the umpire and wild pitches.
- Play will resume promptly once television broadcasts return from commercial breaks.
- Timed pitching changes.
Players who are deemed in violation of these new rules and changes will be subject to warnings as well as possible fines. According to ESPN, fines will not be imposed until May as the first month of the season in addition to spring training will be a period of adjustment for the league, organizations and its players.
Sources told ESPN's Jayson Stark that the intention of the warnings and fines is to help change the habits of players rather than penalize and punish them. Understandably, as MLB games reached a record average of 3 hours, 2 minutes in 2014, up from 2 hours 33 minutes in 1981.
"The players believe that enforcing the rules that currently exist regarding between inning breaks and plate appearances is the best way to address the issue of pace of play," MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark said in a statement. "We're confident that today's announcements will have a positive impact on the pace of the game without jeopardizing the integrity of the competition."
"The Pace of Game Committee wants to take measured steps as we address this industry goal to quicken the pace of our great game," said Atlanta Braves President John Schuerholz, who was the chairman of the Pace of Game and Replay Committee. "It is not an objective of ours to achieve a dramatic time reduction right away; it is more important to develop a culture of better habits and a structure with more exact timings for non-game action."
These rules should, in theory, make the game faster. Managers are no longer allowed and expected to take their time walking gingerly onto the field to scream at umpires. Players will no longer set up for each individual pitch and are expected to stay in the batter’s box between pitches.
Rosenthol and Morisi report that games were 10 minutes shorter on average when used in the Arizona Fall League in 2014. A major difference is that the MLB has not yet decided to institute a pitch clock, which was used in the Arizona league games. Games have consistently gotten longer since the 1950s, but new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is working to improve the game and get rid of time-wasting habits.
“It’s important in terms of providing an entertainment product that is consonant with the kind of society in which we live,” said Manfred. “There’s a certain flow to the game that I think people appreciate, but we’ve developed some habits where we have down time that we just don’t need.
“Secondly, I think it’s symbolic. People talk about the length of the games, worry about the time of games, and I think it’s important for the institution to be responsive to those concerns and to show, ‘Yes, we hear you.’ Consistent with our history and traditions, we’re trying to be responsive to it.”
"These changes represent a step forward in our efforts to streamline the pace of play. The most fundamental starting point for improving the pace of the average game involves getting into and out of breaks seamlessly. In addition, the batter's box rule will help speed up a basic action of the game."
The new rules will certainly help speed the game up, but perhaps not enough to change the entire culture of the league and its players.