Major League Baseball unveiled rule changes today designed to speed up the pace of games, including limiting visits to the pitcher’s mound and shaving the time between innings. The moves come after the average length of a nine-inning game last season grew more than four minutes year-over year to 3 hours, 5 minutes and 11 seconds.
The league’s Competition and Playing Rules Committees recommended the changes to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. He decided to hold off on additional rules that would employ timers to regulate the span between pitches, and between batters — holding off until the new rules’ impact is known.
As for the timer that was OK’d, it will “count down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised championship season games, from 2:25 for breaks in nationally televised championship season games, and from 2:55 for tie-breaker and postseason games.”
For TV viewers timing beer runs and bathroom breaks: Under the new guidelines, with 25 seconds left the umpire will signal a pitcher to complete his final warmup; at 20 seconds the batter is announced and “must leave on-deck circle, batter walk-up music shall begin, and pitcher shall complete last warmup pitch”; and at zero seconds the “pitcher must begin motion to deliver first pitch.”
In a direct nod to the importance of TV, the new rules also state that “the pitcher cannot begin his motion for the first pitch more than five seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change so that television is ensured to be back from commercial break.”
Visits to the pitcher’s mound will be limited to six per game and an additional non-pitching-change visit per inning in extra-inning games.
Last year, Nielsen said baseball ratings overall in primetime were down 6%, though 12 regional sports networks ranked No. 1 in primetime (vs. all TV networks) for games aired in their markets — up from nine RSNs in 2016.