20 April 2018

Players Don't Need Unlimited Mound Visits

The Norfolk Tides finished their first homestand last week. I was fortunate to datacast three of those games - a 3-1 loss to Gwinnett on Friday, April 6; a 3-1 walkoff win over Gwinnett on Sunday, April 8; and a sloppy 7-1 win over Charlotte on Tuesday, April 10. There's not enough data in three games to draw any conclusions about the Tides players, but there is still something worth noting.

As all of you should know, there are have been some new rules, intended to improve the pace of game play, for minor league games this season. The most discussed has been the rule to start extra innings with a runner on second base, but none of the games I saw required extra-innings (thanks to a DJ Stewart walk-off home run.) Another rule change, one which I believe has been long overdue, limits the total number of mound visits to six, including both visits by coaches/managers and by other players.

This rule change had an immediate, noticeable effect in the first two games I saw. There was a total of one mound visit that did not result in a pitching change. In the Friday game, Gwinnett's pitching coach Reid Cornelius came out to the mound after Evan Phillips walked Joey Rickard to load the bases with one out. Phillips retired the next two batters without allowing a run. Earlier, Tides manager Ron Johnson went to the mound to relieve a struggling Joely Rodriguez. In the Sunday game, the Tides made two mid-inning pitching changes, but otherwise the players on both teams had to go at it without internal discussions or help from their coaches.

And this lack of discussion didn't seem to lessen the quality of play. Players knew where to throw the ball and knew where their teammates were going to be. Catchers and pitchers were in agreement on their signs. In short, players knew what to do without discussions of remote contingencies.

One day, before a game, the official scorer, the Tides radio play-by-play broadcaster, and I chatted about the rule changes. None of us really liked the extra-innings rule, although we all agreed that anything to end five-hour marathons decided by (1) which team first runs out of rested pitchers or (2) which team has a batter who hits a fly ball down the line and into the seats is a good thing. But we all agreed that too much of modern baseball has become dead time, and limiting the number of visits to the mound is a good start. And, at least so far, it hasn't hurt the game at all. I will be interested to see if that remains the case.

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