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MLB rule changes to speed up the game coming in 2018

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A pitch clock and limited mound visits are planned for the upcoming season. Spring training games and All-Star game will give a running start in extra innings.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is continuing his quest to speed up his game. Concerned that the average major league contest in 2017 lasted three hours, five minutes (3:07 for Orioles games) and three hours, 29 minutes in the post-season, Manfred is expected to press for changes at this week’s quarterly owners meetings.

The most talked-about rule change is the addition of a 20-second pitch clock, which according to Ken Rosenthal, Manfred will indeed institute this season – no matter what the players say. Manfred and the players’ union have made little progress to date on agreeing on any new rules, and the commissioner has the right to unilaterally implement his earlier proposals, like the 20-second pitch clock and a time limit between batters.

Penalties would be implemented this year, but ball-strike penalties wouldn’t be implemented until 2019. To say the least, these will be much bigger changes than last year’s ludicrous no-pitch, intentional walk rule.

Another one of Manfred’s pace-of-play suggestions is kind of off-the-wall. The Associated Press obtained a January 9 proposal from MLB that mentions shortening extra-inning contests by starting an inning with a runner already on second base.

Manfred plans to pilot this notion during spring training and this year’s All-Star game. The Grapefruit and Cactus League games would have the runner at second starting in the 10th inning – and all future innings. The Mid-Summer Classic’s rule change would begin in the 11th inning.

There’s no harm instituting this rule for exhibition games like these – the purpose being not so much to declare a winner, as it is to evaluate or enjoy talent. But, beware if this is a test to institute on a wider scale in future MLB games that actually count.

It would take away from that anticipatory feeling we get when a game is tied after nine innings. I like the possibility that a game could go on and on like a Stephen Bishop song or that time in 2012 when Chris Davis pitched two scoreless innings to beat the Red Sox in 17 innings. That still could happen, but we’d rarely see it.

What a dramatic change to basic baseball rules this would be. And since it would only affect games that go extra frames, it hardly seems worth the effort.

One glorious facet of baseball that separates itself from other sports is the absence of a clock. While this rule doesn’t actually add one, its intent is to end the game as soon as possible. And that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s fine to think of ways to speed up the game, but that’s different than thinking of ways to end the game.

To Manfred’s credit, he is also trying to tackle some other causes of delays. Ones that slow down the action during exciting moments and disrupt the natural flow of a baseball game. Specifically, limiting visits to the mound.

The MLB proposal would allow each team no more than six visits for the first nine innings, and one more per each extra inning. Exceptions would be made if a catcher were crossed up on a pitch. Sounds like a good idea, but expect some flak due to the increasing problem of sign stealing and how that forces teams to change their signals more frequently.

Rosenthal reports that teams are using video technology in their replay rooms during games to steal signs. One manager anonymously told him that there’s always a camera angle showing the catcher. The manager also credited Astros manager A.J. Hinch for all those mound visits in the World Series to change their signs.

Great managing, but it really took away from the excitement of the game.

Let’s hope that Manfred and the players union settle on changes to quicken the game without compromising the game’s integrity. It may take some creativity, like allowing headsets for pitchers and catchers. In the meantime, 2018’s rule changes will give us much more to talk about than the intentional walk rule did last year.