DETROIT — The pace of play in Major League Baseball could use a touch-up. Over the years it has gotten rough around the edges, stretched out, and some would argue, monotonous. After several changes were proposed for the major and minor league levels, there has been a mixed response. Responses from affected players regarding the pitch clock — which will be part of Double-A and Triple-A minor league games starting in the 2015 season — haven't been warmly received. On the major league side, players are no less opinionated and many believe that some changes will never be enacted.
The pitch clock. Most players don't like the idea and find the notion "ridiculous." However, such a rule already exists in MLB rules. The problem is, it's never enforced. Twenty seconds may not sound like enough time for pitchers, but the current 12-second rule is significantly shorter compared to the proposed 20-second rule. According MLB Rule 8.04, which handles the proceedings of a pitcher, the following applies:
When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call Ball. The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.
Yet, the rule is so far removed from the minds of players, coaches, and MLB officials that it might as well have been banished to the Dark Ages. From the perspective of Detroit Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones, a pitch clock may not be ideal or ever implemented at the major league level, but there needs to be a starting point. Whether that's with a clock, shortening time between innings, or limiting batters to a batter's box is still in question.
"I think something needs to be done, honestly," Jones said. "I don't know, whether it's going to be 20, 15 seconds. I know there's certain pitchers in baseball that really take a long time to throw pitches, but I think something has to be done, just to help speed the game up."
Of the proposed rules, the pitch clock has received the most attention, primarily because of the glaringly obvious clock. Comparisons of attempting to turn the game of baseball into basketball have been made, while other reasons for the depleted pace of play have been brushed aside or downplayed.
An obvious yet ignored contribution have been longer commercials. The modern era of broadcasting every game live has been accompanied by the necessity to pay for that coverage. Games that were played in the 1970s lasted around two and a half hours, but those games also had the luxury of little-to-no commercial time. Nowadays, teams have more than scouting reports and strategy to prepare for, the length of commercials are integrated into the day's plans.
"Yeah, we have to adapt to it the other way," catcher Alex Avila said. "For national games, playoff games, stuff like that, we plan according to the break of the inning so the pitcher's done. That happens all the time, we plan for that every game. Every game we ask, how much time do we have between innings? They say two minutes and 30 seconds, OK then we plan that out. You plan that out so that (the pitcher is) not out there warming up and then stands there for another 30 seconds."
The pitch clock has been met with some form of disdain from several players. Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler doesn't expect that it will become a part of MLB, even though the clock will be an aspect of play at certain minor league levels. For him, the idea is "ridiculous" and he said there are several ways that the pace of play could be controlled without changing the actual game so drastically.
Some of the rules have obvious benefits and would yield almost immediate results, but most would need to be negotiated before implementation. Limiting batters to the batter's box is one way that would help with the game's pace, and one that several Tigers players don't take as much issue with. Where most of the concern lies is that officials are attempting to shorten the actual game, rather than focus on ways to decrease what fills in for the game during breaks and pitching changes.
"It's a terrible idea," Avila said. "I'm not a fan of (the pitch clock). I can see it now. The clock going down, the fans going 'five ... four ... three ...' It's terrible, a terrible idea. To me, that's not baseball, at all."
For clarification, the clock would apply to a pitcher only with the bases unoccupied, rather than a bases-loaded or tied game situation. A limit could influence the exchange between a pitcher and his catcher, but Jones said until it's tested that's an unknown aspect until it's applied in the real world. As for the batter's box, that's a suggestion that has been, on the whole, more warmly received than the clock.
Players are taught early in their baseball careers to stay in the batter's box, but as they progress through the ranks that is less-often enforced. By the time they've reached the majors, those restrictions are all but forgotten. Tigers pitcher David Price doesn't have an issue with several of the proposed changes — such as the inning break clock — but there needs to be a balance.
"As long as everything isn't predicated on the pitcher," Price said. "It's not always the pitchers that are slowing the game down, there's a lot of different things that go on. Standing on the mound in Detroit on Opening Day in April, stuff like that, for 30 seconds just to be ready, that's kind of tough because it will be cold. You don't want the higher risk of injury, you want to be able to stay loose."
For the majority of pitchers, the effect on their deliveries would be minimal. Unless you're Brad Penny or Doug Fister, most pitchers take roughly the same amount of time on a pitch, give or take a few seconds. But that will also have an affect on the position players and how a team approaches opposing batters. If time constraints prevent information to be relayed properly, the ending result might not be so pretty.
"There's different situations at different points in the game where there needs to be more time taken," Kinsler said. "Whether there's signs being received from the middle infielders for a pickoff play, or signs from your catcher that need to be relayed to a middle infielder for a pickoff play, or a bunt play or something that needs to be relayed. It's an important situation where you need that time, and they're concentrating too much just on the pitch in itself, as opposed to the game."
Of the changes being discussed, an inning break limit is the most likely to be implemented. Tuesday afternoon, Tigers President and GM Dave Dombrowski stated at the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association's Tigers Day at Hockeytown Café, that the change is all but set at this point.
"One thing you will see, which will happen right away, is between innings when it says 2:25, between the last out and the next inning starts, that first pitch will come at 2:25," Dombrowski said. "It won't be at 2:25 the hitter is announced, and he strolls in and the pitcher gets on the mound. The pitcher is going to be ready to deliver the ball at 2:25."
The goal is to get it right, not rush the process. Kinsler is not a fan of the most obvious rule proposal, but changes such as keeping players in the batter's box, the inning break limit, and a proposed pitching change break limit would be attainable without ruining the game. By enforcing inning breaks, it would, in all likelihood, automatically shorten the commercials. It's a simple case of cause and effect.
Any change to the tradition of baseball will not make everyone happy, but at least a goal has been set. The good ol' days where games were once two hours in length for even extra-inning games may be a thing of the past, but getting games back under three hours in length is attainable. Not every proposed change will be agreed on and some may never see the light of day. But for the few rules that do become a reality, it will be the result of a collective agreement by those who play the game every day.
"I think they're trying to get something started and they feel this might be the easiest way to do it," Price said. "It's gonna be a process. Once the rules are in place and guys get accustomed to it, it'll be second nature, but at first it's gonna be different. Different's not always bad."