The Atlantic League, and eight-team professional independent baseball league, has decided to get a little creative and institute some new rules that will help speed up the pace of play.
ESPN's Buster Olney details what the new rules are:
- The defensive team will be limited to three "timeouts" per game, in which mound visits or on-field conferences take place with the current pitcher. Pitching changes will not be counted as timeouts, and in the case of extra innings, one additional timeout will be permitted at the start of the 10th inning and every three innings thereafter. Umpires will enforce a strict 45-second time limit on said timeouts. If the umpire's warning is disregarded by the defensive team and play continues to be delayed, the umpire shall declare a "ball" for the batter at the plate. This will limit the number of times play is interrupted by on-field conferences.
- Pinch runners will be used for catchers as soon as the catchers reach base. This ensures that catchers are suited up quickly to start the next half-inning.
- The number of warm-up pitches for each pitcher will be reduced from eight to six.
- When a manager or catcher on the defensive team indicates to the home plate umpire they wish to issue an intentional base on balls, the batter is to be automatically awarded first base without the need for the pitcher to deliver four balls.
- Umpires will be directed to enforce Rule 6.02 and Rule 8.04, related to hitters stepping out of the box and pitchers delivering the ball within 12 seconds when the bases are unoccupied.
- Umpires will be directed to control the pace of play. The umpires shall adhere to the entire strike zone as defined in Rule 2.00 and observe that definition when calling pitches balls or strikes.
This is a lot of stuff that has long been discussed by people who want to prevent MLB games from regularly lasting more than three hours. As Olney points out, there's potential for the Atlantic League to serve as a testing ground for MLB, which may be willing to adopt some of these rules if they work out nicely in an independent league. It's unlikely that will ever see automatic pinch runners for catchers in the majors, but something like a pitching clock isn't impossible to imagine.