Baseball

Manfred Discusses Pitch Clock, Automatic Strike Zone, A’s Relocation Application

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Prior to today’s All-Star Game, commissioner Rob Manfred and Players Association executive director Tony Clark each met with reporters. The interviews covered various topics on the state of the game.

Clark indicated the MLBPA would like to discuss potentially relaxing some pace of play rules during the postseason (link via Jesse Rogers of ESPN). Such things as adding time to the pitch clock or increasing the number of mound disengagements for pitchers could be of interest to the union.

Considering you just played a 162-game season, nobody is looking to play 3½- to 4-hour games,” Clark told reporters. “I don’t think a few seconds here or there is going to create a 3½- to 4-hour game.” Pitchers are permitted 15 seconds to begin their delivery with no one on base and 20 seconds to start throwing with a baserunner aboard. Hitters must be ready by the time the clock hits the eight-second mark. Pitchers are allowed two disengagements from the mound per plate appearance.

The MLBPA doesn’t have the ability to change those provisions. On-field rules changes are at the discretion of a competition committee comprising mostly league officials. Manfred suggested MLB might be open to adjusting the pitch clock for the playoffs but didn’t sound especially enthusiastic about the idea.

We don’t want a postseason game decided by a rules violation, and I understand it’s a possibility,” the commissioner said (link via Bob Nightengale of USA Today). “In terms of doing something for the postseason, we’re going to continue to talk to the players. I think you ought to play the postseason the way you play the regular season. There’s exceptions. I’m open-minded on that topic. But I prefer to keep the same rules in the regular season and postseason.

Of course, the league has already signed off on one major change between regular season and postseason play. The extra-inning runner is strictly a regular season provision; there are no free baserunners in the playoffs.

Manfred also addressed a few other big-picture items. Regarding the potential implementation of an automatic strike zone, the commissioner reiterated his preference for the challenge system over a full move to computer ball/strike calls (link via Associated Press). MLB has experimented with both potential avenues in the minor leagues.

The challenge setup primarily relies upon the home plate umpire to call balls and strikes. Pitchers, hitters and catchers are given a finite number of times they can contest a call. Manfred has previously suggested that setup better strikes a balance of preserving the receiving component of catcher defense while decreasing the odds of a very meaningful missed call at important stages of the game. As the AP notes, the challenge system was in place for last weekend’s Futures Game. Four calls were challenged; three were confirmed.

Regardless, it doesn’t seem any changes to the strike zone are coming next season. Nightengale hears from a league official that no automatic zone is likely to be in place before the 2025 campaign at the earliest as MLB continues to refine the tracking technology.

While there’s been plenty of attention on the on-field rule changes in recent years, one could argue the biggest story of the 2023 MLB season has been the A’s efforts to relocate to Las Vegas. Manfred said this afternoon the franchise has begun to provide the league with information regarding its relocation application but has yet to submit a full proposal (link via Alden González of ESPN). That’s the final significant step after the A’s secured $380MM in public funding for a ballpark in Las Vegas last month.

Once the A’s finalize their proposal, it’ll go in front of a three-person relocation committee. As first reported last week by Mick Akers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Phillies’ owner John Middleton and Royals’ owner John Sherman join Milwaukee’s Mark Attanasio on the committee. The proposal will then go in front of all 30 owners for a vote. The A’s need 75% approval to officially relocate, which they’re expected to receive.

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