Major League Baseball and the Players Union officially signed off on rule changes for the upcoming season. Commissioner Rob Manfred hasn't been shy about pursuing changes to the game that would work to improve the pace of the game, and several of the new rules address those concerns.
The pace of game changes include:
- A no-pitch intentional walk. Instead of having to throw four intentional balls, the defensive team's manager simply signals to the home plate umpire that he wants to issue an intentional walk and the batter is awarded first base.
- :30 rule on replay requests. When the replay rules were adopted, the decision as to whether or not to challenge a call was supposed to be "immediate." Well, teams stretched the meaning of the word immediate to mean "wait until our replay guy tells us whether or not we should challenge the call." Now, a manager has :30 to decide whether or not he wants to challenge a call.
- The 2:00 rule on replay challenges. Once the manager decides to challenge a call, the replay officials at the operations center in New York have 2:00 to make their decision. Of course, there are unspecified exceptions to the rule, so it may or may not limit the time that New York has to make the call.
- Crew chief challenges. If a manager uses his challenge during the game, he can't get help from the crew chief, who has the right to ask for a challenge on any non-home run call, until the eighth inning. Previously, the crew chief could, in effect, save the manager starting in the seventh inning.
Other rules, which address issues other than the pace of game were also implemented or clarified in existing rules.
- Markers on the field. Last May, the Dodgers wanted to place markers on the field to designate to their outfielders where they should be playing. The Mets contacted the commissioner's office and the plan was nixed. Now, the rule stipulating that players (or teams) may not leave equipment on the field has been modified to make it clear that specific markers of any kind aren't allowed.
- The Carter Capps Rule. Have you seen Carter Capps' delivery? It's just short of a hop-ski-and-a-jump toward home plate. A number of opposing teams complained about the delivery and MLB officially addressed it with an addition to Rule 5.07. The new addition states that a pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in delivering the pitch. If there is a runner on-base, the action results in a balk. With no runners on-base, the pitch would be deemed an illegal pitch and automatically called a ball, unless the runner reached base in any manner on the pitch.
- The coach's box. Yeah, those lines in foul territory really do mean something. Coaches at first and third are supposed to be within those boxes at all times, other than while a play is in progress and they move out of the box to give signs to a runner. Now, coaches must be behind the line closest to home plate and the front line that runs parallel to the foul line prior to each pitch. In other words, they can be as close to the stands behind them as they want and as close to the outfield as they want, but not closer to home plate or the playing field.
Here's basically what the rules mean and how they could affect the game.
The no-pitch intentional walk won't affect the game very much, and it won't speed up the game very much, but it does get past those boring intentional balls, thus affecting the pace of the game, which is one concern of MLB. Only very occasionally, will a pitcher air mail a pitch to the backstop, and on even fewer occasions, will the batter take a swing at a pitch that comes a little close to the plate.
Fans of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs will remember though that a wild pitch on an intentional walk in the bottom of the ninth inning, allowed a runner on third to score, giving the 'Pigs a walk-off victory. It can happen, but it's so rare that it's not worth worrying about.
The word "immediate" in the rule book for challenges is different from the new :30 rule. It would probably be better to stick with "immediate" and not allow managers to wait for news from their replay guy. Do you want to challenge the play, or not? Managers should have to make their decision based on having seen the play at the same live game action speed that the umpires had to make the call in.
As for the 2:00 rule, we have to see just what the specific exceptions are - most likely things like waiting for super slow-motion replays or other angles - and how often they're invoked.
The move of allowing a crew chief to ask for a replay starting in the eighth inning rather than the seventh inning, really isn't that big of a deal, but managers will have to keep it in mind when they decide to use their challenge early in the game. Technically, if a crew chief or any of the umpires have a doubt about a call, why shouldn't they be allowed to initiate a replay challenge at any point in the game, if their concern is their own and not prompted by managers, players or fans?
Leaving markers on a field is certainly a stupid idea and shouldn't even have to be clarified in the rule. If you can't get your players to play where you want them, then fix it the old fashioned way; yell and wave your arms to get them to move. Maybe we could have everybody keep a cell phone in their pocket so the coach could just call his right fielder and say, hey, take two steps to your left and one back.
Coaches in the coach's box. What a novel idea. Not going to affect much, and is likely as much of a safety thing as it is anything else.
The most controversial could be the Carter Capps Rule. Check out the delivery. Actually, the rule clarification may help Capps as much as it could hurt him. The Padres, who Capps pitches for now, have been in contact with MLB officials and have been told that as long as the back foot doesn't move a second time - which it occasionally does - his delivery is okay. As the commentary in the video states, some minor league umpires took exception with the delivery and called an illegal pitch, so the clarification was certainly necessary. It's one of those things where if Capps is on your team, you see nothing wrong with it. If he's pitching against you and putting your hitters down one-two-three, it's definitely illegal.
This one is going to be interesting to watch.