WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The pitch clock is not coming to major league parks in 2018. But pitchers may be a little lonelier on the mound.
Major League Baseball announced new pace-of-play rules on Monday that limit each team to six mound visits per game, plus one for each extra inning. (Mound visits by a manager to change pitchers will not count against the total.) Pitchers will also be required to throw their final warm-up pitch no more than 20 seconds before the end of each inning break.
The league said it did not include a countdown clock before each pitch, which is used in the minors, because it wanted to give players a chance to speed up games without them.
The impetus for Monday’s announcement was the tedium of unlimited meetings between the pitcher and catcher, which stifle the action.
Commissioner Rob Manfred consulted with the players’ association about the changes but did not get their approval. He instead used his power to unilaterally impose the rules in the second year of the collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect before last season.
The average time of a nine-inning game was 3 hours 5 minutes last season, about 14 minutes longer than the average game in 2010. Justin Verlander, the veteran pitcher for the Houston Astros, said catchers and pitchers meet more often now to combat sign stealing, which has become more sophisticated with advanced video technology.
“The signs are getting so much more advanced to protect against that, so that’s why you’re seeing more mound visits,” Verlander said. “And when guys get on base, the game comes to a screeching halt. I don’t think the adjustments they made here are going to change anything. A few minutes, maybe.”
Calls from the video room to the dugout will now be monitored, the league said, to prevent the instant communication of sign stealing. But there is nothing preventing a video technician from relaying such information in person, or in a pregame meeting.
“You already have video before the pitcher comes into a game,” Verlander said. “We’re aware of this as pitchers, so it’s like, ‘OK, well, we’ve got to change my signs before we play said team,’ so now we’re using new signs — and pretty advanced ones — to throw everybody else off. And it kind of throws us off too. It’s a pain. Ruins the rhythm of the game, for us and the fans.”
New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez was notorious last season for frequently visiting pitchers with runners on second base. Aaron Boone, the new Yankees’ manager, said he hoped the team could use the new rules to gain an advantage, and the New York Mets’ new manager, Mickey Callaway, agreed.
“To gain an edge in any part of the game, you have to prepare,” Callaway said. “And if we can prepare our catchers and pitchers and their communication better than other teams, maybe we won’t get confused like other teams.”
Brian McCann, the veteran Astros catcher, said six mound visits per game should be plenty, adding that the new rules would simply force pitchers and catchers to prepare a bit longer before games. But Dave Martinez, the manager of the Washington Nationals, was not sure six visits would be enough.
“It’s hard to say, it really is,” Martinez said. “We had a pitcher-catcher relationship day today, and we brought that up. The biggest thing is not getting anybody hurt. That’s our concern. Especially umpires, if there’s any miscommunication with signs.”
If a player leaves his position to discuss strategy with a pitcher after an offensive substitution, it will not count as a visit. The rules also allow extra mound visits if the umpire determines that the pitcher has misunderstood the catcher’s signs. Pitchers still must be removed if visited twice by a coach or manager in the same inning.
“To me, at that point, it’s too late,” Verlander said, adding later, “I think this is a Band-Aid on what I wasn’t considering a bigger issue. I think the game is fine the way it is.”