Last week, Major League Baseball released the full list of rule changes for the 2017 baseball season. Let’s break them down one-by-one.
No-Pitch Intentional Walk (Grade: F)
I’ve already broken down why the pitch-less intentional walk is a terrible idea that’s actually counterproductive to baseball. Anything that diffuses the tension during a pivotal moment in the game is bad for the game, period.
30-Second Limit on Manager Challenge (Grade: B)
In 2017, managers will have a hard limit after a play on how long to decide whether to challenge the call. While this change will make a very minor impact on the “length of game” concern that seems to be dominating the discussion, it will help the flow of the game, and so I give it decent marks.
Ump-Initiated Review Begins Later in Game (Grade: D)
When a manager is out of challenges, the Umpires can currently initiate their own review of a play starting in the 7th inning. This will be pushed back to the 8th inning in 2017. I’m not sure this will save much time and will only add more ambiguity to the equity of replays. Umpires should either have the authority to initiate replay or not.
2-Minute Guideline for Replay Review (Grade: A)
The wait is currently the second-worst part of MLB’s replay process, the first being that fans are given no explanation for what the team in New York saw when reviewing the video. MLB could learn a thing or two from the NFL and have the umpires explain the decision.
That being said, setting a tentative goal of 2 minutes per replay review is a step in the right direction. One replay review in 2016 during a game between the Red Sox and Blue Jays took an agonizing 6 minutes and 25 seconds. That kills the flow of the game.
No Markers on the Field to Help Fielders (Grade: D)
Is this a problem? Have reference markers on the field previously been a problem? I’m sorry, but I watched nearly 200 baseball games last year and this is the first I’m hearing of this.
Clarifying the Balk (Grade: B)
A balk is called when a pitcher makes a move to deceive one of the base runners. Balk rules are a bit ambiguous, and any clarity would help. This particular change codifies that pitchers cannot make second steps toward home plate or reset his pivot foot. That’s a start in helping fans understand the rule.
Base Coaches’ Positioning (Grade: D)
This is again a rule that I think is the result of too much thinking about tinkering and not enough actual concern with what the game needs. Sure, clarifying where base coaches can and cannot stand can avoid confusion or ambiguity, but this hasn’t been ailing the sport in any way to warrant real action.
Overall, these rule changes amount to some small-scale tinkering and a couple worthwhile things that while helpful, won’t accomplish anything close to what MLB hopes to achieve in quickening the game of baseball. Until they’re ready to get serious about pitch timers or limiting commercial breaks, we’re mostly talking about draining a couple drops of water out of a filling bucket.