With Opening Day just over a month away, newly appointed commissioner Rob Manfred has instituted new rules that will hopefully speed up the overall length of games. Since 2005, the average length of an MLB game has increased every year, with games taking 3.13 hours on average last season.
In today’s day and age, this increasing length has played a role in turning away fans in ballparks across the country, and has made baseball, America’s pastime, an afterthought for kids in favor of other up-and-coming sports
“I think anything we can do to speed [baseball] up and get more eyeballs, get more young eyeballs on it and less eyeballs on lacrosse is a good thing,” UConn baseball head coach Jim Penders said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to see a two hour game routinely but I think if we can keep it under three, I think that’s where it should be.”
In an attempt to get the length of games under a three-hour average for the first time since 2011, Manfred has issued multiple new rules. The first rule is that managers must make instant replay challenges from the dugout, instead of coming out on the field to talk to the umpire. Also, hitters must keep one foot in the batters box between pitches. Breaks between innings will be limited to two minutes and 25 seconds for local TV games, while national TV games will be allotted 2:45. Pitchers must deliver their final warm-up pitch before 30 seconds, and the batter must step into the box sometime between 20 and five seconds left. Players who do not abide by these rules will be fined.
Despite working together with the MLB Player’s Union to devise these rules, many players, especially Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, have actively spoken out against these new implementations. Players cherish their time out of the box to calm down, take signs and prepare for the next pitch. However, Penders believes that the outrage will subside over time once players see how play has sped up and how miniscule its impact is on the game as a whole.
“Any change is painful,” Penders said. “In retrospect though, when they put these [pace of play] rules in, we were up in arms as a coaches organization. Now I think if we were to vote on it again it would be unanimous, we’re all in favor of it. At the time, it’s hard to get your head around it, but now I think we’re all satisfied with it and that it’s improved the quality of play too.”
Although these rules are new to the MLB, college baseball has used similar rules for the past few years. Penders believes that these rules will help speed up the professional game, but how much time it will save depends largely on how well it’s enforced.
“I think if it’s enforced, it will help,” Penders said. “We have the rule where you have to keep one foot in the batter’s box, it’s not always enforced though…Any rules that will help [the pace of play] along I think are good for the game.”
In the future, Penders would like to see the pace of play sped up even more by implementing a 20 second pitch clock in between pitches. College baseball has adopted the rule with success, and Penders believes that utilizing the pitch clock could greatly reduce the average game time.
The MLB recently experimented with a 20 second pitch clock in this year’s Arizona Fall League. The clock reduced games by 10 minutes compared to the previous season. The AFL also utilized many of the same rules that will be implemented in the MLB this spring.
“I think everybody likes that. I think even the players will like that,” Penders said of the 20-second pitch clock. “I think it’s common sense, and I think that would be advantageous and hopefully that’s around the corner.”