Players successfully adjusting to pace of play rules
New guidelines yield results after use in Spring Training and April
By Paul Hagen
PHILADELPHIA -- For several days this spring, on the bulletin board of the Phillies' clubhouse in Clearwater, Fla., hung a list of about a dozen names. These were identified as the team's Pitch Clock Violators.
It's fair to say that there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding baseball's pace of play initiatives that were enacted for this season. Hitters, pitchers and managers weren't sure exactly how it would all play out.
It's also fair to say that, so far at least, the changes -- a timer counts down the inning breaks to make sure play resumes in a timely manner, hitters aren't supposed to leave the batter's box except under certain situations -- have been a qualified success.
Two weeks into the season, the average time of games was two hours and 54 minutes. That's down eight minutes from the average length of a game in 2014. And, even more importantly, players who might have been originally skeptical have, for the most part, gone along with the program.
"To this point, we are very encouraged by the pace of play," said Commissioner Rob Manfred. "I believe that the typical game generally feels tighter and crisper. In response to the wishes of our fans, we collectively set out to quicken sensibly and unobtrusively the pace of play by getting out of breaks on time and having batters keep a foot in the box. The cooperation of the players with these efforts, along with our umpires and the clubs, has been a key to the positive results thus far."
Ryne Sandberg paid a compliment by saying he barely notices the between-innings timer anymore.
"It's been very subtle," the Phillies manager said. "The clocks that are out there kind of go unnoticed with the players. And even with myself, because it's such a reasonable time, I don't see it being abused or guys going way over the time limit."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny found that the clock rarely comes up for players and coaches.
"Only when we get warnings," he said. "That's kind of how we went about this from the beginning. Just play the game and if we have to make adjustments, we will, instead of trying to do these wholesale changes when it's not even necessary. I think we've been pretty good in the past about not taking too much time in between with the guys on the mound and the same with the guys in the box. Didn't want them changing unless there was a violation."
For local games, two minutes and 25 seconds is the maximum an inning break is supposed to last. For national telecasts, it's 20 seconds longer.
Through Spring Training and in April, the umpires are giving players time to adjust to the new rules, especially hitters who may have become accustomed to going through a certain ritual between pitches. Starting in May, fines can be assessed for violations.
"I've noticed umpires reminding the hitters to get in the box," Sandberg continued. "There's been a courtesy period on that and the umpires are helping out. Just a quiet, 'Hey, you need to get in there.' That type of thing. We've gotten some notice about the relievers coming in with the time that they're allowed to get on the mound, get their warmups and start play. So that's just a matter of changing some of the mind-sets and routines of some of the relief pitchers. Everybody's working together on it. It's something we don't think about too much or worry about too much."
Sandberg isn't sure whether it will become more of an issue once the new guidelines begin being enforced more strictly.
"Possibly," he said. "We're talking about changing the routines of players, the way they've done it [for a long time]. Whether a pitcher likes one more toss in the bullpen or whether the hitter likes three or four practice swings between pitches, whatever that is, there will have to be some adjustments. But this first month we're going through now, with the guidance of the umpires, I think those adjustments are being made."
Matheny has found that players will occasionally forget the new rules, but he has seen the necessary adjustments take place.
"I think guys, it just completely skips their mind," he said. "They may step two inches outside the box and it wasn't something that they had intentionally thought about. You see everyone is kind of changing their routine. If they're going to do their practice swings, they're going to do it with one foot in the box. Keep aware of it, but not let it completely change what they're going to do."
Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich got a warning letter from Major League Baseball earlier this year, but he doesn't foresee any issues.
"I don't think it's made a huge difference," Yelich said. "I don't even notice it. It's really a non-factor for me. I don't think anybody in this entire clubhouse has even thought about that or are thinking about it when they're playing.
"I think it's just something that's there that we've adapted and adjusted to."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.