The reduction in the pitch clock from 20 to 18 seconds with runners on base is the most significant proposal Major League Baseball’s joint competition committee is considering, but not the only one.
The committee also is suggesting adjustments in batter timeouts, pitching changes and mound visits, according to a copy of the 39-page document obtained by The Athletic.
Among the other proposals: A restriction on pitchers circumventing the clock, a requirement that a pitcher who warms up face at least one hitter and a mandate that pitchers work exclusively from the stretch with runners on base.
The clock would remain at 15 seconds between pitches with the bases empty. But players, in response to the proposed reduction with runners on base, are asking: Why are changes necessary after only one year, particularly when virtually everyone considered the introduction of the timer a major success?
The players’ chief concern, as it relates to the clock, stems from their belief that the risk of pitcher injuries will increase because of the reduced recovery time between pitches. The league says no evidence exists linking the clock to the rate of pitcher injuries. It wants to reduce the time between pitches with runners on base because game times over the course of last season increased as players learned to manipulate the clock.
MLB likely to implement 18-second pitch clock with runners on base in 2024: Sources ⤵️https://t.co/7thZLsaNIM
— The Athletic MLB (@TheAthleticMLB) November 16, 2023
While the players do not have the power to stop the league from implementing the recommendations of the 11-member committee, in which club representatives hold the majority over players and umpires, they intend to ask for adjustments, according to sources briefed on their plans but not authorized to speak publicly.
The committee addressed pitcher injuries in the final page of its document, saying, “One of the Joint Competition Committee’s stated objectives is to pursue changes to the game that promote player safety and reduce injuries. MLB has heard from players, owners and front office officials concerned about the long-term trend of increasing injuries to pitchers. In response, MLB is launching a study into the causes of pitching injuries.”
One veteran pitcher, granted anonymity in exchange for his candor, said, “It’s total double speak out of (commissioner) Rob (Manfred). He says he wants more starting pitchers (to succeed) as they understand that’s a desirable aspect of the game, yet they continue to increase risk on starting-pitching health to achieve their agenda.”
Manfred, speaking Thursday at the owners’ meetings in Dallas, said, “I think the most important thing on rules is that the owners, the players, the umpires have an openness to revisiting changes that we’ve made, or other rules, No. 1. And I’m hopeful that that process becomes more collaborative.
“I know there are some rule changes that have been discussed in the committee that were actually player suggestions. I take that as a huge positive. And I’m hopeful that with some further discussion, that things that are out on the table, we’re able to reach a consensus.”
The Players Association declined comment.
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The committee technically has 45 days to consider proposals, but extensions can be granted. Last season, the first with the clock and other new rules, the league responded to player concerns by issuing 10 clarifications during the season. In this case, the players want the league to take their input into immediate consideration so that fewer in-season adjustments are necessary.
The committee’s other proposals include:
• Batter timeouts. The home-plate umpire would signal for the re-start of the 15- or 18-second between-pitch timer after granting the batter’s request for time.
The league said two issues emerged with timeouts last season. Hitters took advantage because there was no time limit, and pitchers sometimes held the ball for prolonged periods because the clock did not reset until the batter returned to the box. The average duration of a timeout increased by two seconds from April to September.
One potential problem with the proposed change is that it would not necessarily achieve its desired goal. Hitters could wait as long as possible to call a timeout, then delay their entrance into the box until the last possible instant.
• Pitchers must work exclusively from the stretch with runners on base. The committee wants to adopt this rule because of a recent trend in which pitchers have adopted “hybrid” deliveries that incorporate elements of the stretch and windup, creating confusion, particularly with runners on third base.
Some pitchers don’t like the idea of the league dictating their style of delivery.
“You can’t tell me how I want to throw,” one veteran said. “I have to be able to use any tactic to get a hitter out.”
• Mound visits. The committee, saying “mound visits rank among fans’ least favorite events in baseball,” wants to reduce the number from five to four. A team still would get an extra visit in the ninth inning if it exhausts its allotment.
• Pitching changes. The timer would reset to two minutes rather than 2:15 when the new pitcher steps on the warning track.
• Circumvention. Pitchers no longer would be permitted to delay the start of the clock by walking around the edge of the mound after a ball is out of play.
• The requirement that a pitcher who warms up must face at least one hitter. This change would eliminate the ability for the defense to wait for the first hitter of the inning to be announced and then make a pitching change.
The committee cited 23 instances last season where the pitcher that warmed up between innings was replaced before throwing a pitch, adding approximately three minutes of dead time in each instance.
The proposed rule changes also include two unrelated to pitching or the time of game.
The first, raised by umpire Bill Miller, suggests a widening of the runners’ lane to include the dirt path on the fair side of the foul line. The second, raised by free-agent infielder Whit Merrifield, concerns the blocking of bases and the home-plate collision rule.
The joint committee said, “Players have provided feedback saying that it has become common for infielders to drop knees and lower legs in front of a base to prevent the baserunner from reaching the bag ahead of the tag. As long as the umpire deems the fielder is in the act of fielding a throw, this behavior is not against existing rules.”
The committee cited player safety as one concern, the complexity of the home-plate collision rule as another. The new “blocking base rule” would be applicable at all bases. Fielders could not block the direct pathway of runners and impede them from reaching a base even in the act of fielding a throw or while possessing the ball. Runners could not initiate avoidable contact.
The only exceptions would be when the runners are out by enough that blocking does not impact the play, or when defenders are in the act of fielding batted balls. Umpires would be directed to target egregious violations, and their judgments would not be subject to replay reviews.
–The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Jayson Stark contributed to this story.
(Photo: Norm Hall / Getty Images)