Giants manager Bruce Bochy keeps pushing all of the right buttons

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The Giants weren’t as much of a surprise the Nationals, so it’s doubtful Bruce Bochy will get much love in the Manager of the Year award balloting when the results are announced next month.

Now if there were a Postseason Manager of the Year award, there’s no doubt Bochy would claim it in a landslide. It seems Bochy and his giant cranium can do no wrong this month and particularly these last five games.

– He pulled Madison Bumgarner from the rotation in favor of Barry Zito in Game 5 of the NLCS, watched Zito pitch a gem to keep the Giants in the series and then restored Bumgarner to the rotation for Game 2 of the World Series with stellar results.

– He’s seemed to have the knack for knowing exactly when to turn to the bullpen. Of course, it’s a lot easier to look like a genius when both the starters and relievers are pitching like they have been lately.

The way I’ve always looked at it is that, if you’ve already decided you’re going to pull a pitcher after one mistake, you don’t send him back out to make the mistake. Jim Leyland may or may not have done that tonight. He had starter Doug Fister open the seventh, only to remove him after Hunter Pence singled to lead off the inning. Maybe it was Leyland’s plan to pull Fister for the lefty (with back-to-back left-handers coming up) regardless of what happened with Pence, and if so, that’s defensible.  Still, it should have been Octavio Dotel’s batter all along.

Bochy has handled the pitching changes flawlessly, and he’s continued to play matchups late in games even when it seems one of his relievers is doing well. Not only is he playing the percentages, but it appears that the quick hooks have made his relievers more effective while working for the second day in a row.

– He’s gotten terrific results from Tim Lincecum as a reliever.

– He hasn’t resorted to any foolish small-ball tactics. Bochy could have had Belt try to bunt in the seventh inning tonight, but Belt has very little bunting experience and probably would have struggled to get it down. Bochy let Belt hit and was rewarded with a walk. And then, with a guy up who can bunt, Bochy had Gregor Blanco move the runners along (and even that turned into an unexpected bonus when the bunt failed to roll foul and Blanco reached).

Bochy doesn’t have a great lineup, but he has his players playing to their strengths. He hits and runs with Marco Scutaro because Scutaro is pretty much the ultimate hit-and-run guy. There haven’t been any bad stolen base attempts. He hasn’t tried to force the issue, and he’s not giving away outs.

– He’s also not giving away baserunners. In the second inning of Game 7 against the Cardinals, Matt Cain was pitching with runners on first and third, one out and No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma at the plate. Daniel Descalso went on to steal second. Had Mike Matheny been managing the Giants, there’s a good chance the steal would have led to an intentional walk of Kozma, setting up the double play with the pitcher up. Bochy, though, let Cain face Kozma, got a strikeout and then retired Lohse on a looping liner to short.  As a result, it was inning over, instead of Jon Jay potentially being up with the bases loaded and two outs.

So, yeah, I like what Bochy is doing this month. And I’m not typically such a big fan of his. It’s also surely worth noting that the starting pitching decisions are hardly his alone; Brian Sabean and company have their say as well. But if the Giants do come through and win this thing, Bochy is going to deserve all of the praise he gets. He’s put the team in the right position to win every time.

Major League Baseball limits mound visits, puts off pitch clock until 2019

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Major League Baseball just announced its much awaited pace-of-play initiative for 2018. The big news: no pitch clock, with Rob Manfred deciding, in the words of the league’s press release “to defer the implementation of a pitch timer and a between-batter timer in 2018 in order to provide players with an opportunity to speed up the game without the use of those timers.”

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be changes. In rules changes which were reached with the cooperation of the Players’ Union, teams will now be limited to six non-pitching change mound visits per team per game, and one extra visit if the game goes into extra innings. Also, a new rule is being introduced that is designed to reduce the time required for inning breaks and pitching changes.

The mound visit rule is NOT limited to coach or manager mound visits. It also includes position players, including catchers, visiting the mound to confer about signals and the like. It will not count the normal conversations which take place between plays, such as when a pitcher says something to a fielder as they throw the ball around the horn. It likewise does not include things like a first baseman coming to the mound to clean his spikes off with the pitcher’s gear on the back of the mound. Mound visits to check on injuries will not count either.

While six visits may seem like a lot, it really isn’t once you realize that a pitching coach may go out two or three times in a close game and that a catcher, especially in close games, may come out to talk about signs and things seemingly countless times. Heck, they could re-name this the Jorge Posada or Gary Sanchez rule.

There will be one big exception to the rule, which relates to catchers and pitchers truly being crossed up on signals after they have exhausted mound visits. It reads thusly:

3) Cross-Up in Signs. In the event a team has exhausted its allotment of mound visits in a game (or extra inning) and the home plate umpire determines that the catcher and pitcher did not have a shared understanding of the location or type of pitch that had been signaled by the catcher (otherwise referred to as a “cross-up”), the home plate umpire may, upon request of the catcher, allow the catcher to make a brief mound visit. Any mound visit resulting from a cross-up prior to a team exhausting its allotted number of visits shall count against a team’s total number of allotted mound visits.

This makes sense as a matter of safety, if nothing else, as you don’t want a catcher truly not knowing where a pitch is going. It’s also notable as one of the few rules changes in recent years that actually adds in an umpire’s judgment rather than takes a judgment call away from an umpire. It’ll be worth watching, however, to see how easy a touch umpires are about this. Again: if we have a tense September game between Boston and New York and everyone has used up their mound visits, I wonder if the umps will truly enforce the rule.

The big problem here is that there is nothing in the new rule which talks about the penalty for trying to make a seventh mound visit. To that end:

This is gonna lead, at some point, to a pretty big argument. Should be amazing.

As for innings breaks, There will be a timer that counts down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised regular season games, from 2:25 for breaks in nationally televised regular season games, and from 2:55 for postseason games. The timer shall start on the last out of an inning for an inning break. 

There are set things the players must be doing at certain points on the clock. To wit:

  • When there are 25 seconds left, the umpire will signal to the pitcher to complete his last warm-up pitch;
  • When there are 20 seconds left, the batter will be announced and must leave on-deck circle, his walk-up music shall begin, and the pitcher shall complete last warm-up pitch;
  • When the clock gets to zero, the pitcher must begin his motion for his first pitch of the inning.

There will be “special circumstance” exceptions, such as when other random things are happening on the field that prevents this, such as in-between inning events going too long or something, and an umpire can determine that a pitcher or batter needs more time for safety purposes.

Enforcement of the clock will be handled by umpires directing players to comply. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline by the league. Put differently, no one is issuing automatic balls or strikes here. It’ll be handled by fines.