Major League Baseball has gone back and forth this offseason on directives that could help to speed up the pace of play. Unable to come an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Minor League Baseball instead will implement a good amount of these regulations starting this season.
The biggest change will be an attempt to shorten games that are tied after nine innings. At all levels of Minor League Baseball, extra innings will begin with a runner on base. The runner will be the hitter in the batting order position previous to the leadoff batter of the inning. For scoring purposes, the runner will be deemed a runner who has reached second base because of a fielding error, but no error shall be charged to the opposing team or to any player.
Major League Baseball had hoped to have this rule implemented for spring training games this season and for the 11th inning of the All-Star Game, but the measure was stymied by the Players Association.
Further, the number of mound visits will be capped at each level of Minor League Baseball. At Triple-A, clubs will be allowed six visits per team, Double-A clubs will be allowed eight visits per team and Single-A clubs will be allowed 10 visits per team. There will be no limit to mound visits for Rookie-level or short-season clubs. An additional visit will be added for each extra inning.
In the event mound visits have been exhausted, catchers can be allowed to ask for a mound visit with their pitcher if there is not a shared understanding on location of next pitch (i.e. a “cross-up”). A cross-up is counted as a mound visit if a team has yet to exhaust its allotted number of visits.
Minor League Baseball will also implement a 15-second pitch timer for Triple-A and Double-A level games. The timer will begin with their wind-up or the motion to come to the set position when no runners are on base. With runners on base, the pitch timer goes from 15 to 20 seconds. The timer shall start when the pitcher has possession of the ball in the dirt circle surrounding the pitcher’s rubber, the catcher is in the catcher’s box and the batter is in the dirt circle surrounding home plate. This rule has been in place since 2015.
The timer will stop as soon as the pitcher begins his wind-up. If the pitcher feints a pickoff attempt, the timer shall reset and start again immediately.
Umpires have the authority to stop the pitch timer and order a reset. A violation of this rule by a pitcher results in a ball added to the count. If a batter fails to be in the batter’s box and alert a pitcher with seven or more seconds remaining on the pitch timer, a strike will be awarded to the count on the batter.
The first 15 days of the season (April 5-19) will serve as a grace period, with players receiving warnings for infractions. Beginning April 20, rules will be enforced as written.
The average length of a nine-inning major league game was 3 hours, 5 minutes last season, up from 2 hours, 46 minutes in 2005.