This fall, MLB dedicated its Arizona Fall League to testing a host of trial rules all designed to improve the pace of play. While the specifics ranged from the perfectly logical to bizarrely borrowed from other sports, I love that MLB was willing to take the chance and try this out.
In brief the experimental rules were:
The No-pitch Intentional Walk: Instead of making the pitcher throw four balls, the manager just signaled for the batter to take his base. Personally, I'd rather make the pitcher throw the ball. The batter might take a hack and hit it, as Miguel Cabrera did a few years ago against the Orioles, or the intentional balls might take the pitcher out of his rhythm.
Stand in the Batter's Box: Under the new rules, unless there was a foul ball or a pitch to dodge, the only reason the batter was allowed to leave the batter's box was if he called time. Love it.
Inning Break Clock: Teams had only 2:05 to swap positions between innings. There was a lot of complaining about this one, especially by the catchers. Two minutes might not be enough time, but I'd love to see MLB try a three minute clock.
Pitching Change Clock: Anything that results in the return of the bullpen cart is a-ok by me. Let's not watch a guy jog in from left-center field then take a dozen warm up pitches. Make him feel the need to sprint!
Three Conferences: The most arbitrary of the rules, each team was allowed to hold only three time out conferences per game. That meant, in theory, that if the catcher visits the mound twice in the first inning to go over signs, and then the pitching coach comes out to give the guy a breather, that the manager can't come out in the eighth to discuss whether to pitch to the next hitter or to walk him. Why three? Just because it's baseball and we like things that come in threes?
I haven't seen as much discussion of the three conference rule as of the other rules. I suspect that's because the impact of this one is subtler. You could see the highlights of the fielders sprinting off after the inning, but there's no good highlight of a shortstop wishing he could go to the mound to discuss positioning with the pitcher.
My chief opposition to this rule is that it would kill the hidden ball trick. And baseball without that working Little League trick actually working every decade or so is a lesser game.
The Shot Clock: By far the rule that got the most attention; only at Salt River Field, the pitcher has only twenty seconds from getting the ball back from the catcher to get on the mound and come to "set." From there, he can deliver a pitch, throw to a base, or step off. There was a lot of confusion in the early goings over whether a pitcher could step off or he had to throw the ball, but eventually they clarified that stepping off was an option too. Another issue was training the countdown operator to recognize "set."
This improvement seems the most far fetched to me, but it is in many ways the most intriguing because it's the most invasive.
The rules seem to have had an effect. Through the first couple weeks of the Fall League, the average length of game was about 25 minutes shorter than last year.
Game times at the MLB level have picked up in the last few years, mainly because the Yankees and Red Sox no longer employ good hitters capable of laying off pitches for a 5 hour, 9 inning matchup. But I'd welcome a couple changes like the ones MLB tested this fall. Anything that means less time for John Sterling to monologue between pitches is ok by me.