In so many ways, Rob Manfred’s tenure as MLB commissioner is like that @dril tweet except with a dial labelled BASEBALL. Unfortunately he doesn’t always seem to actually listen to the crowd and comes off a little more like some of the more infamous “Price is Right” contestants, and based on the MLBPA’s reaction to the new rules rolled out yesterday, that’s continuing.
The players’ union voted against implementing the five new rules for the 2024 season (which Estevão discussed yesterday), but the Competition Committee only has four player reps on the 11-man table. So, with new rules on the way, let’s take the time to break each one down in terms of effect on the game and how useful a rule it’s likely to be.
1) Wider Baseline to First
Verdict: Eh, sure.
I’m not super worked up over this one, though it is funny that Trea Turner now has a second rule related to him. The batter-runner’s route to first base is widened by 18-to-24 inches of fair territory. Maybe we’ll see a few more runners try to dance around tags, or a few fewer “out of the baseline” calls by the home plate umpire, but that’s about it in my mind.
2) Less Warm-up Time
Verdict: Unqualified to comment.
Pitchers will now have just two minutes exactly to warm up between innings, rather than 2:15 like last year. Fifteen seconds seems to me, a man sitting in his living room, like one or two more pitches and I’m not sure how much that affects a player’s long term health.
I will bet though, that those 15 seconds won’t be passed along to the television viewer. We’re still getting that quick Budweiser spot in between the third and fourth inning.
3) Four Mound Visits
Verdict: Gettin’ warmer.
The original mound visit rule, limiting teams to six visits, came into being ahead of the 2018 season and it’s quickly become something that is just part of the game. I don’t even track how many mound visits remain in a game when I’m watching — they’re on display in the ballpark but never on the scorebug. I simply assume teams are using them more judiciously.
After success with the pitch clock cutting down game time in 2023, MLB seems a little addicted to shaving a minute or two off in 2024. I think on the whole, I prefer this approach to cutting down the game to some of the other things MLB could try, but it also seems like we’re starting to split hairs just a little bit.
4) New Pitch Clock
Verdict: I think this is what the boys are angriest about.
The pitch clock was pretty widely acclaimed among baseball fans last year. This is all anecdote, but in talking to friends of mine whose primary sporting interest was not baseball, and my 72-year-old dad who lives and breathes Blue Jays, each were both aware of the pitch clock change and vocally in favor of it.
The reaction of pitchers themselves were more mixed. Early in the season, hurlers were certainly shaken by the change, and although most did get used to it as the year went on, players with stature as high as Max Scherzer were at least annoyed by the rule and had some injury concerns. Now, with men on, the 20-second clock will be reduced to 18 seconds, and all versions of the clock will begin when the pitcher catches the ball, closing the mound loophole that existed last year.
This one feels the most like needling the players (who had appealed for more time in the postseason), without a ton of visible upside. I’m a big fan of the pitch clock in its 2023 form, but one of the things that I like about baseball is that it breathes. You can have it on in the background while you work, you can have conversations with friends, and there are moments of pause that aren’t liabilities but part of the game’s charm to me. That those moments can be interspersed with Aaron Judge obliterating a baseball or provide enough time for David Cone to replay and break down a sweeper grip are part of what makes baseball unique.
I don’t need baseball to be constant action every single moment. The game had gotten a little bit fat; the 2023 rule change was, in my opinion, a step in the right direction to correct that. This additional step feels out of place, time saving simply for time’s own sake.
5) Warm Up? Stay In
Verdict: Bureaucratizing a fun lil’ thing.
I love Pat Venditte. The
ambiguous amphibious ambidextrous pitcher inspired a new rule upon reaching the majors, Rule 5.01(f). Ambidextrous pitchers must indicate which hand they will use to throw a hitter before the plate appearance begins, and cannot switch the hand until the next batter comes to the plate.
The final rule is a scaled up version of this. If a manager sends a pitcher to warm up on the mound at the start of the inning, he must face at least one batter. This is regardless of any gamesmanship by the opposing manager to pinch-hit for a platoon advantage once a reliever has been brought in.
Twice in the World Series, a reliever had been warmed up, and then taken out upon announcement of a PH:
This happened 24 times in 2023, out of around 20,000-odd innings played. I just think it’s not something that really affects the game. Casual fans probably don’t even notice, and frankly if you’ve made it to the eighth inning, you’re already committed to this exercise. Managers increasingly cede decision making to other folks. I like the fact they had this small piece of gamesmanship left: “If I do X, he’s going to do Y, and I’ll have to try Z instead”. Getting that all set up and being able to execute it is a treat for those paying attention.
I don’t know if the reaction to these rules is going to be as loud — positive or negative — as the reaction to the pitch clock simply because these are tweaks and adjustments to rules that are mostly already in place. I do wish that MLB could have gone one more year before additional changes — such a radical change needs more than one season of data before I can say anything else needs to be done. Manfred’s gotta turn that dial, though.