September 10, 2022

MLB's Competition Committee Approves Pitch Clock And A Ban On Shifts For 2023;
MLB (Surprise!) Ignores Players' Concerns And Suggestions About New Rules;
Manfred Continues His Dismantling Of A Game That Was Fucking Fine For 130 Years

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred continues his unprecedented crusade to reshape (or destroy, as intelligent observers of the situation believe) the game of baseball. On Friday, an 11-person* committee voted in favour of instituting a pitch clock/timer, a ban on shifts and larger bases, among other changes. The changes will begin next season.

ESPN's Jeff Passan writes that MLB and Manfred hope this "sweeping set of rules . . . will fundamentally overhaul the game".

The committee's vote on larger bases (an increase from 15 inches square to 18 inches square) was unanimous, but all four members of the committee representing major league players voted against both a pitch timer and a ban on shifts.

According to an MLBPA statement, MLB officials refused to consider feedback from players when finalizing the new rule proposals.
Players live the game — day in and day out. On-field rules and regulations impact their preparation, performance, and ultimately, the integrity of the game itself. Player leaders from across the league were engaged in on-field rules negotiations through the competition committee, and they provided specific and actionable feedback on the changes proposed by the commissioner's office. Major League Baseball was unwilling to meaningfully address the areas of concern that players raised, and as a result, players on the competition committee voted unanimously against the implementation of the rules covering defensive shifts and the use of a pitch timer.
*: The committee consisted of six MLB representatives (owners Dick Monfort of the Rockies, John Stanton of the Mariners, Greg Johnson of the Giants, Tom Werner of the Red Sox, Mark Shapiro of the Blue Jays and Bill DeWitt Jr. of the Cardinals), four players (Jack Flaherty, Tyler Glasnow, Whit Merrifield and Austin Slater (with Ian Happ and Walker Buehler as alternates)), and one umpire (Bill Miller).

Manfred works for the owners and his only job is to make them richer, so he doesn't care if players or fans think he is ruining the game. Manfred has only grown bolder in recent years about "changing the game", claiming (despite the results of various polls) that he's "giving fans the kind of game they want to see".
These steps are designed to improve pace of play, increase action, and reduce injuries, all of which are goals that have overwhelming support among our fans. Throughout the extensive testing of recent years, minor league personnel and a wide range of fans — from the most loyal to casual observers — have recognized the collective impact of these changes in making the game even better and more enjoyable.
Jesse Rogers of ESPN explains the new rules:
The Shift
The new rule: At the time a pitch is thrown, there will need to be four infielders on the dirt and two on each side of second base. Players will be able to move as soon as the ball leaves the pitcher's hand.

How it will be enforced: If the hitting team reaches base and runners advance on a ball hit under the violation, the game proceeds without penalties. If the play has any other consequence — an out, a sacrifice, etc. — the hitting team can decide either to accept the penalty — which would add one ball to the hitter's count — or decline it, and the play would stand.

What it's meant in the minors: During the first two months of this minor league season, in the lower levels of the minors where shifts are regulated, the batting average on balls in play by left-handed hitters rose by eight points. At Triple-A — where shifts are not banned — it was up only three points.
Pitch Clock

The new rule: Pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch with the bases empty and 20 seconds with a runner on base. Hitters will need to be in the batter's box with eight seconds on the pitch clock.

How it will be enforced: If a pitcher has not started "the motion to deliver a pitch" before the expiration of the clock, he will be charged with a ball. If a batter delays entering the box, he will be charged with a strike. . . .

While it is not directly correlated, Statcast's pitch tempo tracker shows 108 pitchers have averaged at least 20 seconds per pitch with the bases empty this season . . .

What it's meant in the minors: When stricter pitch clock enforcement — based on a 14-second clock with the bases empty and an 18-second clock with runners on — began in the minors earlier this season, the results were immediate. Over the first 132 minor league games under the new rules, the average game time was 2 hours, 39 minutes. That's 20 minutes shorter than the average time of a control set of 335 games run without the clock to begin the season (2 hours, 59 minutes) and 24 minutes shorter than the average of the 2021 season (3 hours, 3 minutes average).


The new rule: Pickoffs are now considered one version of "disengagements," which consist of any time that the pitcher makes a pickoff attempt, fakes a pickoff, or steps off the rubber, as well as when the defense requests time. Pitchers are allowed two disengagements per plate appearance without penalty.

How it will be enforced: After a third step-off, the pitcher will be charged with a balk, unless at least one offensive player advances a base.

What they're trying to change: A lack of action on the basepaths has been a concern of MLB's in recent attempts to improve the aesthetics of the sport, with stolen bases per team down to 0.51 per game in 2022 from 0.66 a decade ago. (In the 1980s and 1990s, stolen base rates hovered around the 0.75 range.)

What it's meant in the minors: In 2021, when the pickoff rules went into effect in Single-A and High-A, stolen base attempts skyrocketed. This year, as the rules expanded to every league, baseball is seeing big gains throughout the minors, though slightly less drastic spikes. According to, the stolen base attempts rate in the minors is up to 2.85 attempts per game so far this year — no team in the majors last year even averaged one.

Bigger Bases

The new rule: Bases will be increased from 15 inches to 18 inches.

What they're trying to change: The increase in the size of the bases should reduce injuries around them while increasing stolen base attempts.

What it's meant in the minors: In Triple-A, the first season of larger bases didn't make much of a change on its own — but in the lower levels, bigger bases combined with rules about pickoffs saw large increases in steals per nine innings. Even combined with the disengagement rules, though, MLB doesn't believe either change will lead to teams being unable to control the run game.
[Fucking hell. The smarter half of my brain tells me that the game I love has been perverted all out of goddamn shape by people who manifestly hate the game and it's time for a divorce. Rather than rage against the nonsense that is currently being passed off as baseball, I should tell myself that we had an unforgettable 45-year relationship, be happy with that, and simply fucking walk away. . . .]

Manfred's statement noted that the instances of defensive alignments featuring four players in the outfield have increased nearly six fold since the start of the 2018 season. This is apparently a bad trend and must be eliminated. 

Any fan that supports a ban on shifts is also cool with their favourite team not being able to do everything it can to win games.

I oppose any attempt to limit managers from positioning their fielders wherever the fuck in the field they want

Manfred's increasing clampdown on strategy is horrible and upends nearly 150 years of baseball tradition. Under Manfred's interminable rule, managers are already restricted from having their best pitchers on the mound in certain situations; they are forced to leave pitchers in the game when they would rather take them out. Why does anyone support this garbage?

Manfred's statement noted that "the Pitch Timer has reduced the average nine-inning game time by 26 minutes (from 3:04 in 2021 to 2:38 in 2022)". There's nothing wrong with that — the time between pitches should be shorter — but a rule already exists that addresses this problem and it has been part of the rule book for many decades

Why make up a new rule instead of simply enforcing a better rule that already exists? For reasons that continue to elude me, Manfred has been terrified for years of insisting that umpires enforce Rule 5.07(c):
(c) Pitcher Delays

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.

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.
Evan Drellich, The Athletic:
Here are some of the issues players felt strongly about, according to people with knowledge of the committee discussions:

• A pitch clock wouldn't have much of an impact if a pitcher could continuously reset it by stepping off the mound. At the same time, pitchers want the ability to throw over multiple times to try to keep potential base stealers from swiping bags. Position players are said to have provided feedback during the process indicating that they would take large leads to force pick-off attempts, and then — knowing at that point that a pitcher has only one pick-off attempt left — they'll then use the clock, and a pitcher's history, to steal. A pitcher might develop a history of consistently throwing before the clock hits, say, three seconds remaining. The feared end result is that there are more stolen bases that are not contested, without a chance for a catcher to throw out the runner.

• Because teams can challenge whether a player was in an illegal position [because shifts will be banned] before a pitch, players worry that a tiny infraction — an inch over — will lead to the erasure of some major moments, even if it didn't impact the outcome of the play or pitch.

• Players are concerned about the timer's effect on major situations, be it the postseason, or late-and-close games in the regular season; moments when pitchers might otherwise take extra time to collect themselves and reset. While MLB is pleased with the results of clock testing in the minors, players point out that the minor leagues can't replicate October baseball . . . Will major moments be decided more by the clock than a player's potential best effort? One idea players liked was to relax enforcement during late-and-close situations.
Umpires blowing ball-strike calls already alters the results of numerous games every day. So sure . . . why not change the natural outcome of a game by ruling a player is out of position or a pitcher delivered a pitch one second too late — and that tie-breaking three-run double in the bottom of the eighth should actually be called ball two as a penalty against the pitcher (which he will gladly accept in that situation)?

Other small changes, as per Drellich:
The league also made an adjustment to the limitation of two times for a pitcher to step off the mound — "disengagements," they're called — adding in the availability of an extra disengagement when a runner advances inside the same plate appearance.

MLB also added in an additional mound visit for teams in the ninth inning if they're out of mound visits. Teams likely would often try to preserve one of their mound visits for the ninth inning anyway, but the knowledge that another mound visit is available in the ninth might allow for an extra mound meeting in a prior inning. The league also gave hitters an additional second to get in the batter's box.
Craig Calcaterra, Twitter:
Trying to get my mind around just the "disengagements" part of the proposed rules changes. They are so complicated and have so many caveats that I suspect they will prove to be unworkable right out of the gate. There will be lengthy game-stopping arguments over them.

"Pitcher requests for a new baseball with nine seconds or more remaining on the pitch timer do not count as a disengagement, but do if there are less than nine seconds." This alone will lead to replay review and other forms of chaos. . . .

Wait: The pitch timer cannot be reviewed on replay, according to Rosenthal and Drellich. Which, OK, but it just means that Angel Hernández will get to determine where the nine second clock was at the time of the "disengagement." Seems like that'll be great.
Well, "lengthy game-stopping arguments" and "other forms of chaos" are fantastic ways to make games shorter.

This is a real surprise: Major League Baseball has agreed to recognize the Players Association as the formal union representative of all minor league players. James Wagner of the New York Times reports:
Having played for more than 100 years without a formal union, the players of minor league baseball lack formal representation and thus cannot collectively bargain over wages or working conditions. . . .

The executive board of the union, which has long declined to represent minor leaguers in part because the interests of the two groups can be at odds, voted two weeks ago to take this step. The union then sent out union authorization cards to over 5,000 domestic minor league players.

In just over a week, the union announced on Tuesday, "a significant majority" of minor league players had signed the cards authorizing the union to become their collective bargaining representative and, as result, it asked M.L.B. for formal recognition. . . .

While some players live off large signing bonuses negotiated in their first contracts, many have to work second jobs to make ends meet. According to Advocates for Minor Leaguers, a nonprofit founded two years ago that has spearheaded this fight and was recently folded into the union, the "vast majority" of minor league players "make less than $12,000 — below the federal poverty line." . . .

In 2021, M.L.B. raised pay for minor league players, with Class A minimum salaries rising from $290 to $500 a week and Class AAA salaries increasing from $502 to $700. And this season, it enacted a housing policy under which all 30 M.L.B. teams were required to furnish housing to most players. (In the past, players often had to pay for their own housing, which resulted in instances in which several would jam into a single room of an apartment.)

1 comment:

FenFan said...

I'm all in favor of doing anything within reason to speed up the game, and if it takes a clock to make that happen, fine, but to your point, what happened to the umpires enforcing existing rules? Give the pitcher a warning the first time he takes too long, or a batter a warning if he steps outside the batters box on anything but a foul ball, and then start calling automatic balls and strikes as appropriate.

The shift ban is one that I really do NOT favor. Is offense suffering in baseball? It appears not, and that's the only reason that I could see changing this rule. When every player on the committee votes against it, while everyone else (read: non-players) votes in favor, that should tell you something.

Of course, there's still no "robot umpires" and I cannot for the life of me understand WHY. The technology is already in place. It has proven effective. It speeds up the game. But hey, let's keep the base runner at second to start every half-inning after nine complete... that will shorten the games! **eye roll**