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."I've bolded the new text. The rule used to stipulate 20 seconds.
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.
The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.
The reason for the change is to help shorten the time of games. The first MLB link above also states that a strike will be called on a batter each time he violates the rule requiring he keep one foot in the batter's box throughout his at-bat, except for certain game-play conditions.
Some comments about the 12-second rule from the Sox camp:
I know they want to quicken the pace of the game, but when we start not playing on ESPN and waiting 2½ minutes before innings, it'll be much easier. I think it's kind of dumb. ... I don't give it much merit.Curt Schilling:
I would disagree that our games are longer. We're on TV every night and it's 2:25 between innings. If you ask us, we'd rather not be. Those games take 4½ hours to play. We're always ready to play before the TV timeout's done.John Farrell:
If you allow a certain amount of time to pass, the change-of-speeds element almost gets taken out of the picture, so the quicker, the better. This is a game originated on defense, and we can control that from a pitching standpoint. So the more you can dictate that tempo, the more we feel we have the advantage. There's an inner struggle all the time on who is controlling the tempo of the game. Is it the guy in the box or the guy on the mound? That won't change. But now, we'll have an umpire almost mediate this to a certain point.Terry Francona:
I don't particularly agree with these rules. I'll follow them, but when we play the Yankees, it's going to be a long game. There's a pretty good chance it's televised. In between innings is like an hour. ... But the ballpark's full. Somebody's enjoying those games.It's clearly no secret that the main culprit of longer games in recent years has been the ever-increasing length of the commercial breaks between innings. That is something that will not change.
The good thing about the new 12-second rule is that -- even if it's actually enforced (can anyone recall a pitcher being penalized under the 20-second rule?) -- it applies only when the bases are empty. (This webpage seems to state that a 12-second rule has been in effect since 1998.)
It is also good to know that this debate has been going on for nearly 100 years. At least as far back as the 1910s -- long before TV -- the Lords of Baseball have been complaining about, and trying to reduce, the time of games. Nothing of any significance has ever really been done. (In 2001, the Baseball Crank suggested shortening games to seven innings. I like the Crank, but this is blasphemous.)
My take: I do not want a clock dictating any portion of a baseball game and if I have to "endure" delays while pitchers and batters take their time on the field, so be it. If you don't like games that last over 2:45 or 3:00 or whatever your particular limit is, when that much time has elapsed since the first pitch, get up and turn off your TV or radio. Or leave the park.
The longer the game, the more baseball you're getting for your ticket. More baseball = good.