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New minor league pace-of-play rule changes announced; Manfred continues brave one-man war on baseball

Next plans to cut rosters to 11, change shape of ball to modified oval, draw new lines on playing field

MLB: World Series-Los Angeles Dodgers at Houston Astros Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Commissioner Manfred, operating through his puppet, President of Minor League Baseball Pat O’Connor, continues to give baseball fans exactly what they don’t want by announcing a series of league-wide rule changes that will go into effect across all levels of Minor League Baseball this year. These changes include:

  • In all games, at all levels, the tenth inning will begin with a runner on second base. The runner placed at second will be the player who bats immediately before the player who is due to come up first that inning—as if the ninth inning had simply continued with that player, instead of making an out to end the inning, reaching second. It’s about as elegant as a Cheesecake Factory.

NB: The runner on second will be scored as if a fielding error got him there, meaning if he scores, it doesn’t count as an earned run for the pitcher, although all subsequent runs will count against the pitcher. This seems like common sense, until you remember what we’re talking about in the first place.

  • Like their big-league counterparts, mound visits will be limited in the upper minors: six for Triple-A, eight for Double-8, and ten for Single-A. There will be no such limitations for short-season and Rookie level clubs.
  • There will be a 15-second pitch clock (20 with runners on-base) at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Pitchers will have until April 20th of this year—the first 15 days of the season—as a grace period, with only warnings given for infractions. After April 20, the penalty of an automatic ball will go into effect.

Per the press release, the runner-on-second rule is being spun as a way to protect pitcher health and keep pitching staffs from being shorthanded due to marathon contests. And there is a good point in that! Protecting the underpaid arms of minor leaguers is important, and their development should be paramount. The press release also implies this will do away with the scourge of position players pitching, as if that isn’t a source of endless delight to most baseball fans. Or perhaps you didn’t hear about Jesus Montero, relief pitcher?

In writing about the potential of a rule change like this to come to MLB last year, Dave Sheinen pointed out that just 7.6% of MLB games in 2016 went to extras, and of those games, almost two-thirds ended after 10 or 11 innings. Less than 5% went to a marathon 15-innings plus, the kinds of games where wacky baseball things—the same wacky baseball things fans love—start to happen. Those numbers seem like they would be higher in MiLB, where inexperienced players might struggle to make offense happen or pitchers give up entire volleys of runs—but without going through and hand-calculating how many MiLB games last year went to extras, how many extra innings they went, and which teams at what levels played what percentage of those extra innings games, I can’t find this data; it wasn’t in the press release. There’s a distinction between a 16-year-old shortstop in the AZL throwing in the 17th inning of a game tied 14-14, and a crew of MLB-adjacent relief pitchers in the upper minors getting high-leverage late-game experience. This is a unilateral solution to a problem (that may or may not exist) being applied across levels that encompass everything from actual babies getting their first taste of organized pro ball to grizzled MLB vets trying to stage a comeback. And it’s especially suspicious that, just months after the MLBPA slapped down Manfred’s pace of play initiatives, this rule change is suddenly being applied across all levels of the minors—a far cry from the slow rollout across lower levels that was promised last year.

The most troubling part of this is that it’s a reminder that MiLB is free to act without any outside governance—there’s no MLBPA for MiLB. We see that not just with the low pay and poor conditions, but also with minor leaguers getting rung up for minor offenses like pot, or popped for PEDs with no meaningful way to appeal in cases with extenuating circumstances (like when Royals prospect Adalberto Mondesi was hit with a suspension because he took some non-approved cough syrup while back home in the DR). If Manfred and O’Connor want to drastically reshape the face of baseball there, there’s nothing that can stop them.

Maybe the new rules will be more of a boon than a burden; maybe by July, we won’t even remember they’re there. But “pace of play” isn’t necessarily the same thing as “shorter games,” and outside of minor league FO offices, this rule change seems unpopular enough that people aren’t going to forget about it any time soon.

Last I checked that poll was overwhelmingly not-in-favor of the rule change. So let’s have our own!

Poll

Do you like the new MiLB rule changes?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Yes, minor league games are meaningless anyway and the rules will protect players
    (38 votes)
  • 89%
    No, the runner at second rule corrupts the game at its core, leave baseball alone already
    (313 votes)
351 votes total Vote Now