In February, Major League Baseball announced new rules aimed at improving the pace of play. The rule that has everyone’s attention at the moment limits teams to six non-pitching change mound visits per game with each team being granted one more for each extra inning. It’s not the most popular rule. Angels catcher Martin Maldonado and Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said they’d just eat fines rather than follow the rules.
There’s also been some confusion. Rob Manfred said that a seventh mound visit would trigger an automatic pitching change. Per John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, Manfred said, “There has to be a pitching change. That’s the only way they can go to the mound again. That’s what happens.”
However, chief baseball officer Joe Torre clarified that the seventh visit cannot trigger an automatic pitching change, per Eric Stephen of True Blue LA. Instead, it’s up to the umpire to stop that seventh mound visit.
On Thursday afternoon, Torre and his aides showed up to the Mets’ camp at Port St. Lucie to brief the club on the new pace of play rules. Joel Sherman of the New York Post asked him a hypothetical where there is a pop-up between home plate and the pitcher’s mound. The catcher grabs it and flips the ball back to the pitcher, then the two share a few words. Would that count as a visit? Torre simply said the players aren’t allowed to discuss anything and that the situation is fluid.
In his own interpretation, Sherman believes that MLB is “trying to shoehorn rules” on the fly and that “we are going to have a lot of tension” as the season progresses and new situations arise. And he’s not wrong. There are a lot of different reasons why players and coaches would visit the pitcher on the mound. Perhaps an infielder wants to scrape mud off his cleats or use the rosin bag. Maybe a catcher isn’t on the same page with his pitcher and wants to clarify, which is actually a safety issue. Sometimes an umpire gets hit with a foul tip or the catcher just misses the pitch, so the catcher will trot out to the mound to give the umpire some extra time to recover as a courtesy. If Major League Baseball doesn’t have all of these potential situations spelled out as legal or illegal, there is going to be inconsistency in the way different umpires apply the rule and there will be arguments every time, whether it’s the team upset that the rule was invoked against them or the opposing team upset that the rule was not invoked. And, in the end, the pace of play won’t have improved much, if at all.
Craig has a good rule of thumb for viewing the situation, but it really needs to be spelled out in black and white in the rulebook.