45° Good Afternoon
45° Good Afternoon

MLB watching Atlantic League experiment with speeding up play

Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild makes a visit

Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild makes a visit to the mound as the infield surrounds relief pitcher David Phelps during a three-run second inning by the Kansas City Royals on Saturday, June 7, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. Credit: MCT

A revolution has begun to take shape in the independent Atlantic League. And it had nothing to do with the nickname of the York team, which, coincidentally, is "Revolution.''

York's game against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs was one of the first in the league -- which includes the Long Island Ducks -- to use new speed-up rules that took effect on Friday. The Blue Crabs' 2-1 victory took 25 minutes less than the league average of 2 hours, 59 minutes.

Imagine -- a professional baseball game in 2:34. What is this, 1950?

Compare that with Saturday's Yankees-Red Sox game, which lasted 3:56.

"Pace of play" is an important issue with all baseball leagues, starting with Little. ("Pace of play" is a nice way to say, "Hey, this game is too darn long and there's not enough action! Speed it up already!")

The Atlantic League is not affiliated with Major League Baseball, but you can imagine MLB officials will be paying attention to how the experiment fares -- especially given that longtime MLB executives had a hand in crafting the changes.

Former Astros president Tal Smith headed the committee. It included Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick, longtime executives Roland Hemond and Joe Klein, and a trio of former big-leaguers with Atlantic League ties: Ducks co-owner Bud Harrelson, former Yankee reliever Sparky Lyle and former Brewers slugger Cecil Cooper.

Six changes were announced, but only five have been implemented:

Talk less, pitch more. You know those annoying mound visits? Now defensive teams will be limited to three 45-second "timeouts" per nine-inning game for mound visits or on-field chats. Pitching changes won't be counted as "timeouts." If the visit takes more than 45 seconds, a ball will be called on the next batter.

Are you warm yet? Warmup pitches at the beginning of an inning or for a reliever will be reduced from eight to six and must be completed in one minute.

Take yer base. Intentional walks will be automatic. No need to throw four awkward-looking outside pitches.

Thinking inside the box. Batters can't wander around the plate between pitches and pitchers have to throw the ball within 12 seconds when there's no one on base.

Striking a blow for speed. Umpires have been directed to call the strike zone "as defined" -- meaning the high strike could make a comeback. That will lead to more strikes being called and quicker at-bats.

The sixth change that was announced but then shelved was an immediate pinch runner for any catcher who reaches base -- without the catcher having to permanently leave the game. The idea is, the next half-inning doesn't have to be held up while the catcher puts his gear back on. Chances are the catchers' union got insulted by that one.

"We are excited to put these new efforts in place and observe how they impact the pace of play," Atlantic League president Rick White said. "We hope that these measures, along with others being considered, not only enhance the game for the Atlantic League but serve as a model for other leagues."

Not everyone loves the new rules, though. York pitcher Beau Vaughan told USA Today on Friday: "All of the stuff they're proposing seemed kind of silly. It seemed very high school."

Come to think of it, high school games could use some speeding up, too.

MLB has paid lip service to pace-of- play issues over the years. Usually it's in the form of a memo to umpires and managers that everyone sticks in a drawer and soon forgets.

It's hard to imagine big-league hitters being told they can't step out of the box or pitchers being told they have to deliver the ball in 12 seconds. And umpires have had enough added to their (home) plates this season with expanded instant replay and the confusing can't-block-the-plate rule. Plus any changes to MLB rules must be negotiated with the umpires' and players' unions.

But MLB can unilaterally institute changes in the minor leagues. It has done so in the past with issues such as drug testing and chewing tobacco. It can do so again if it wishes to experiment with speeding up the game. Time, in this case, would be on everyone's side.

New York Sports