SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On Tuesday, with spring coaching camps about to open throughout Arizona, Major League Baseball defined its new guidelines. For almost an hour, league executives Chris Marinak and Morgan Sword stood on the entrance of a theater contained in the Rockies advanced at Salt River Fields and took assembled media members by the modifications. How the pitch timer would work, and the way violations could be policed. The brand new shifting restrictions, violations of which shall be topic to replay evaluation. The brand new bases, now the dimensions of huge pizza bins. As soon as they had been accomplished presenting the brand new measures, they herded reporters exterior to the sector, the place MLB’s vice chairman of on-field technique Joe Martinez demonstrated them personally.
However for all of the concentrate on new guidelines, the league additionally intends to higher police a few very previous ones.
“Now we have slipped a bit bit centrally in our vigilance,” mentioned Sword, MLB’s government vice chairman of baseball operations, “in calling the rulebook unlawful pitch and balks.”
Guidelines governing balks and unlawful pitches have been on the books for greater than a century, though for the common fan they rank among the many most poorly understood violations within the sport. Quite a lot of circumstances can lead to both, though the league’s presentation Tuesday particularly highlighted how the 2 guidelines work together with the brand new pitch clock measure.
Sword confirmed a clip of Blue Jays starter Kevin Gausman rhythmically bouncing on his entrance foot earlier than delivering a pitch with a runner on base. The rulebook dictates that pitchers within the stretch should come to an entire cease earlier than starting their deliveries. (“This have to be enforced,” the rulebook goes on to remark. “Umpires ought to watch this intently. Pitchers are continually trying to ‘beat the rule.’”)
“Going ahead,” Sword mentioned of the Gausman clip, “that’s going to be a balk,” and certainly, Gausman was known as for 2 final season. However the balk rule takes on heightened significance given the pitch clock.
Starting this season, pitchers may have 15 seconds to ship a pitch with the bases empty and 20 seconds when runners are on. The clock stops not when a pitcher comes set, as had been the case within the minors just a few years in the past, however when the pitcher begins his pitching movement. Within the windup, meaning when a pitcher takes a step backward along with his lead leg. Within the set place, meaning when a pitcher lifts his lead leg. Any one in all Gausman’s bounces, Sword mentioned, may have been mistaken for the start of his supply.
“With the pitch timer, the umpire on the sector and the timer operator want a transparent indication of when the pitching movement has begun,” Sword mentioned. “When a pitcher is frequently bouncing on his foot like this, it’s not clear at what level you’ve got begun your pitching supply.”
One other emphasis for the league was unlawful pitches, though this Sword didn’t tie so on to the brand new pitch clock rule. Rule 5.07(a)(1), which describes the windup, permits the pitcher to “take one step backward, and one step ahead along with his free foot.” Most pitchers adjust to that mandate — Sword confirmed a clip of Guardians ace Shane Bieber that was “completely authorized” — however not all.
“We’ve had pitchers over the past couple of seasons develop extra advanced windups the place they rock backwards and forwards and take a number of steps,” Sword mentioned. “The rulebook doesn’t allow that. We’re going to be higher about calling that so that you’re solely allowed one step backward earlier than we name an unlawful pitch.”
Specifically, one of many sport’s most unusual deliveries technically runs afoul of the rule. Astros right-hander Luis Garcia famously “rocks the child,” swinging his arms and taking steps ahead and backward earlier than elevating his leg and transferring down the mound, mechanics he favors (and that he developed on his personal) purely for his or her repeatability. Now, he must alter or face being ceaselessly known as for an computerized ball.
And alter pitchers have, Sword mentioned. “There have been a handful of pitchers within the huge leagues who’ve needed to make modifications to their pitching deliveries that we spoke to a few months in the past,” he mentioned. “Everybody ought to be good to go for the spring.” Spring coaching will present one other adjustment interval, and Sword mentioned the league has instructed umpires to name balks and unlawful pitches (and pitch clock and shift violations) stringently from the beginning of Cactus League and Grapefruit League play. “Should you do see a bump in balks and unlawful pitches known as in spring,” Sword mentioned, “simply know that’s the place that’s coming from.”
Would a Garcia who doesn’t rock the child be as enjoyable to observe? May this be an occasion of MLB needlessly legislating out the very idiosyncrasies that make the sport wealthy and textured? Sword mentioned the league has tried to maintain that query in thoughts. There are many funky deliveries — these favored by Nestor Cortes Jr. and Johnny Cueto come to thoughts — which might be authorized regardless of their wackiness, he mentioned. As for people who aren’t?
“We simply encourage funky pitchers to be funky,” Sword mentioned, “throughout the guidelines.”
(Photograph of Luis Garcia: Michael Reaves / Getty Photos)