A few years ago a Mets hitter slashed a hard ground ball past the opposing pitcher. Standing a few feet beyond second base was the opposing shortstop. He fielded at the ball cleanly and threw on to first for a routine 6-3 put out. I remember Ron Darling saying at the time, “for 100 years in baseball that’s a hit. In today’s game, it’s an out.”

While recently watching a replay of a Mets game from 2019 against the Marlins. Just to see, I kept a stop-watch on some of the batters and pitchers to determine how long it took to get the play going once the ball was in the pitcher’s hand. It took demonstrably longer between pitches than 20 seconds.

In the same game, the pitchers took at bats.

For a game that we think of as being played by the same rules for as long as it has been in existence, Major League Baseball has undergone significant changes in just the past few years.

The pitch clock, the elimination of over-shifts, the designated hitter in the National League: these are all new or nearly new rules introduced into the game in the hopes of improving the entertainment value of the game on the field. If the first few games of Spring Training mean anything, the changes are having the intended effect.

The batters have stopped wandering around home plate. They are no longer adjusting and then readjusting their batting gloves. Long time Mets fans will remember Joe McEwing as the prime example of these habits. The new rule requires the batter to be in the batter’s box eight seconds from when the pitcher receives the ball from the catcher. Eight seconds is not a long time, but it’s plenty long enough to get set and wait for the pitcher to throw the ball to the plate.

On the other side of things, with the bases empty the pitcher has 20 seconds (or 30 seconds with runners on) to begin the wind up and deliver the ball to the plate. Also not an eternity, but with a little effort this time span is not a rush-job. Fans will also remember Steve Trachsel taking forever between pitches. Watching him pitch was so frustrating, fans in the stands would yell for him to throw the ball.

The DH has been with us since the COVID shortened 2020 season, so it’s not a new rule. But it is still a change to the game in recent years that is a jarring departure from the past. In general, National League teams have been slow to adjust to the DH. The mindset of NL GM’s appears to be that the DH is a lineup spot for the slow-footed, rather than a place for a dynamic offensive player who either has no natural defensive position or a regular who needs a rest from playing in the field. Daniel Vogelbach and Darin Ruf are prime examples of the former. (Brett Baty or Ronny Mauricio fall into the latter category.)

Eliminating the exaggerated shifts by requiring two infielders on the dirt on both sides of second base rewards hitters who hit the ball hard to their pull side. Since shifting became a significant part of the game over the past five years or so, it was frustratingly commonplace for well hit balls into the outfield (particularly off the bats of left-handed hitters) to be 4-3 put outs. In an early Spring Training game, several hard-hit ground balls to the right side made it into the outfield: sure outs last year. Daniel Vogelbach will be a prime beneficiary of the elimination of over-shifting. Former met Michael Conforto will be helped as well, depending upon his health.

The point of these new rules is to improve the game. Quickening the pace of play and providing more offensive excitement is sure to attract more casual fans to the game. And as long as the rules are the same for all of the teams, there’s no reason to fret over these common sense rule changes. Hopefully the new rules will have the intended effect and games will be more entertaining and more enjoyable to watch.

On the other hand, there are two recent changes to the game that are simply overkill. The head start runner on second base in extra innings and the enlargement of the bases are awful concepts that should be repealed immediately. This isn’t a little league. You have to earn your way onto base. And if you really want to prevent injuries caused by the bases, don’t make them bigger – make them smaller. Reducing the height of the bases will result in fewer mishaps, especially in cold weather when the bags turn into concrete as the cold temperatures make the bases hard as a rock.

A post-script: one innovation that has slowed down the game is the introduction of video replay. Interpretations of what is “clear and convincing evidence” necessary to overturn calls on the field aside, this change to the game has made it better. Anyone who remembers Omir Santos’ game winning home run against the Red Sox will agree on this: umpires have been screwing the Mets for decades. Video replays have made the game fairer and less frustrating. This change in the way the game is played has been terrific.

6 comments on “Turn and face the strain – Ch-ch-changes

  • Hobie

    I thought 15/20 (B.empty/MOB) and 30 sec between batters.

  • Brian Joura

    Here’ the pitch clock rule:

    “There is a 30-second timer between batters and a time limit between pitches. After receiving the ball from the catcher or umpire, pitchers are required to begin their motion within 15 seconds with the bases empty or within 20 seconds with runners on base. If they don’t, they’re charged with an automatic ball.

    “Hitters also share the responsibility to keep the game moving. They must be in the batter’s box and ready for the pitch by the time the clock reaches 8 seconds. If not, they’re charged with an automatic strike. A batter can call time out only once per plate appearance.”

    My opinion is that smaller bases would cause more injuries.

    • Denis Engel

      Smaller bases: only the height. The other dimensions would remain the same.

  • Denis Engel

    Hobie was right. From MLB.com:

    “The rule mandates that a pitcher must deliver the ball with the bases empty in 15 seconds or within 20 seconds with the bases occupied. A hitter must be in the box and facing the pitcher with no less than eight seconds remaining on the pitch clock.”

  • JimO

    Now can a pitcher throw three times to first and then three times to third? And is there a limit to the number of times a catcher can throw down to first or third?

  • NYM6986

    Hate the free runner starting at second. It’s just not baseball.

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