The new rules about batters staying in the box and pitchers being ready to pitch immediately after the commercial break ends have just been announced. You can read all about them here. Here are my initial thoughts:
Outside of increased pitching changes — which really can’t practically be eliminated — I suspect that batters stepping out of the box after every pitch is the biggest driver of slow games. We talk about slow pitchers more often, but they can’t get set and look in for a sign until the batter is ready. Forcing the batter to stay in the box will force him to get ready more quickly which will speed the pitchers up too, I suspect.
I do, however, think there are too many exceptions to the stay-in-the-box rule. As it is, batters are only required to stay in the box only on called balls and called strikes, and I feel like there is no reason why batters should be allowed to step out when they swing and miss or foul one off. Let the umpire decide if the swing was so damn violent that the batter needs some recombobulation time, but otherwise get on with it, ya know?
All of that said, I think starting conservatively is always a good idea when it comes to rules changes. And I do think that even having a limited number of situations in which a batter must stay in the box will encourage a lot more staying-in-the-box than we expect. That’s because I don’t think most batters view stepping out of the box as some strategic choice. Sure, sometimes they’re trying to mess with a pitcher’s rhythm, but not too often, and it’s obvious when they’re doing it. I think it’s mostly just a habit/rhythm thing they do. If we start to change their habits on called balls and strikes, I bet batters just start staying in the box more anyway because that’s the new rhythm. We’ll see.
As for the rules about pitchers warming up more quickly, the addition of a clock for those purposes and the requirement that everyone be ready togo after the commercial break is over: that’ll be more initially disruptive, I bet. But given that it’s about preparation and not actual game play, I suspect that they’ll adjust to it fairly quickly and it’ll just become a new normal.
In the short term, yes, some batters will complain about not being able to step out (I have David Ortiz in the pool) and some pitchers will claim about being rushed in their warmup routines. But all-in-all these are pretty minor changes to players’ routines that could, if my above suspicions prove accurate, speed up the game fairly significantly.