On Monday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced new changes to speed up the pace-of-play in baseball games. And just 24 hours later, two catchers have already said they’ll have no problem breaking one of those new rules.
The issue at hand is the limit on mound visits. There used to be no limit on mound visits, but the new rule sets a cap of six non-pitching change mound visits for each team in a single game. Manfred has defined a mound visit as more than just a visit from the manager or a coach. Anytime the catcher leaves home plate and goes to talk to the pitcher, that counts as a mound visit. When a position player walks up to discuss something with the pitcher, that also counts as a mound visit. In short, anytime anyone goes to the mound for anything besides an injury check or a pitching change, it’s a mound visit.
Going from infinity visits down to six is severe, and some catchers are not happy about it. Los Angeles Angels catcher Martin Maldonado and Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras both talked to the media on Tuesday and communicated their displeasure.
#Angels C Martin Maldonado, on the new limit of 6 mound visits per game: "If the game is on the line, I’m going to go out there. If we’re at 6, and it’s going to be the 7th, I’m going to go out there, even if I have to pay a fine. I'm there for the pitchers."
— Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR) February 20, 2018
Willson Contreras isn't deterred by new mound visit rule: "What about if you have a tight game & you have to go out there? They can't say anything about that, that's my team & we just care about wins. If they're gonna fine me about number 7 mound visit, I'll pay the price." #Cubs
— Josh Frydman (@Josh_Frydman) February 20, 2018
Those comments highlight why the severe mound visit limits are so short-sighted. The point of baseball is to win. This new rule is an outside force that could affect that. Maldonado and Contreras, and probably others, don’t care about the fines, they want their teams to win.
But that brings up a different problem: there are no official penalties for breaking the new rule. Nowhere in the pace-of-play changes is there a mention of the punishment for making a seventh (or eighth or ninth) mound visit. Contreras and Maldonado are just assuming that there will be fines for breaking the mound visit rule, but nothing has been officially announced.
Joe Torre, MLB’s chief baseball officer, answered questions about penalties on Tuesday, and he didn’t mention fines at all.
Joe Torre says the umpire will tell a catcher to get back behind the plate if he attempts to violate the 6 mound visit rule…if he keeps going it could lead to an ejection, etc. MLB hoping doesn't get to that
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) February 20, 2018
Telling a catcher to get back behind the plate is ridiculous because the catcher will most likely know that he’s attempting to make a seventh mound visit. Telling someone to not break a rule they’re in the process of knowingly breaking makes no sense. And saying that it “could” lead to an ejection is an understatement, because there is one penalty for disobeying an umpire, and that penalty is being ejected from the game.
Manfred also answered questions about penalties for breaking the new mound visit rule, but he gave a slightly different answer than Torre.
What happens with the seventh mound visit? Penalties? Manfred: “There has to be a pitching change. That’s the only way they can go to the mound again. That’s what happens.”
— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) February 20, 2018
So there will be a penalty for a seventh mound visit, but it’s not a fine, and the player who initiated the mound visit won’t be ejected. Instead there will be a required pitching change. Shockingly, that makes some sense. If a team is out of mound visits but someone goes to the mound, the only allowable reason is a pitching change. But when you boil it down, requiring a pitching change is essentially ejecting the current pitcher. And that opens a whole new can of worms about relief pitcher warm-up time, since a new pitcher might not be ready when the seventh mound visit happens.
Would you believe there’s even more confusion on top of that? Because there is. Torre tried to clarify Manfred’s comments about the required pitching change, but ended up doing the exact opposite.
Now Joe Torre says a seventh mound visit would prompt a pitching change only if the visit is by a manager or coach, not a teammate. https://t.co/DmaPda3uR8
— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) February 20, 2018
So a seventh mound visit by a manager or coach means a required pitching change, but if it’s from a teammate, it could possibly result in an ejection, but neither Torre or Manfred appear ready to make that official. Torre said he’s hoping it doesn’t get to that, but if the comments of Contreras and Maldonado are anything to go by, that hope is misplaced.
It’s inconceivable that Major League Baseball would announce a significant change to the game without thinking through every scenario and outcome, but it looks like it has done just that. It seems likely that the commissioner’s office will clarify the penalties for breaking the mound visit rule before opening day, but defined penalties won’t make catchers (or pitchers or anyone) more likely to follow this new rule. It’s all a huge mess, and the only thing we can do is wait and see how it’s going to play out.
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