Major League Baseball has implemented significant pace-of-play rule changes for the 2017 season in an effort to speed up the game, it was announced Friday.
The rules include mandating that managers stay in the dugout during replay challenges, that hitters keep at least one foot in the batter’s box during at-bats, a prompt return to play after TV commercial breaks and timed pitching changes.
“These changes represent a step forward in our efforts to streamline the pace of play,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “The most fundamental starting point for improving the pace of the average game involves getting into and out of breaks seamlessly. In addition, the batter’s box rule will help speed up a basic action of the game.”
The league, which announced the changes with the MLB Players Association, established a pace-of-game committee in September aimed at making recommendations to speed up games, which grew to a record average of 3 hours, 2 minutes in 2014, up from 2:33 in 1981.
Players who violate the rules will receive a warning, with “flagrant violators” subject to a series of fines up to $500. The intention is not to impose penalties but rather to help change the habits of current players in an effort to speed up the game, sources told ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark.
The new rules begin in spring training, but the warnings and fines will not be imposed until May, as spring training and the first month of the regular season will be a phase-in period.
Speed-up rules in the major leagues required the OK of the players’ union, and baseball officials had said a pitch clock was ruled out for this season. However, sources told Stark that Major League Baseball will begin to compile data and inform all pitchers how long they take between pitches.
Several new mandates, including the batter’s box rule, were tried out during the Arizona Fall League in October and November.
The batter’s box rule remains in place unless an established exception occurs. Those exceptions include swinging at a pitch, foul balls, foul tips, if the hitter is brushed back by a pitch, time granted by the umpire and wild pitches.
Also, two timers — on or near the scoreboard and another on the facade behind home plate near the press box — will be used in every major league ballpark to help quicken the pace. For each half-inning break, teams will have either 2 minutes, 25 seconds (for local telecasts) or 2 minutes, 45 seconds (national telecasts) from the time the commercial break begins until the first pitch should be thrown to the next batter, who should be in the batter’s box with no fewer than 20 seconds remaining on that timer.
If a pitcher fails to complete the traditional eight warm-up pitches before the timer reaches 30 seconds, he forfeits the right to do so. Pitching changes will also be timed like between-inning breaks.
“The players believe that enforcing the rules that currently exist regarding between inning breaks and plate appearances is the best way to address the issue of pace of play,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement. “We’re confident that today’s announcements will have a positive impact on the pace of the game without jeopardizing the integrity of the competition.”