To its credit, after years of talking about speeding up the games, the Atlantic League is finally doing something about it by implementing new pace-of-play rules.
Only problem is, I'm not convinced completion times of games is an issue for the independent league, which includes the York Revolution.
This time last year I did a study on the completion times of nine-inning games in the first half of the 2013 Atlantic League season. What I found then is games were, on average, being played in 2 hours, 54 minutes. Lancaster, whose manager, Butch Hobson, is synonymous with making numerous pitching changes, actually had the fastest completion clip at 2:41. York was next in line, completing games in an average of 2:51.
Fast forward to this season and a quick glance at York's home schedule says much the same. Of the 37 nine-inning games played at Santander Stadium thus far, 26, or 70 percent, of the games were done in under three hours. More than a third of the games (13) were played in 2:45 or less.
Fans should expect a baseball game to be around 2:40 or 2:50. I would have an issue if games were consistently three hours or longer. But they're not.
This is all a result of the league, beginning last season, putting an emphasis on speeding up games by encouraging umpires to call the "high strike," team promotion staffs to complete in-between-innings entertainment segments in 90 seconds or less and players to compete at a more brisk pace. That included things such as cutting down on batters digging in and stepping out of the box and pitchers delivering pitches in a timely manner. The methods have obviously proven to be effective. Just look at York, where the Revs went from averaging a completion time of 3:03 in its nine-inning games in 2012 down to 2:42 so far this year.
New rules: How has the Atlantic League responded? Well, less than two weeks ago the league's board of directors voted into action six new pace-of-play rules, some of which make no sense.
Such as the warm-up pitches between innings being cut down from eight to six.
"That's not adding time to go the game. It's really not," said Revs manager Mark Mason last Monday when discussing the new rules.
Mason also made a good point about the rule to substitute a courtesy runner if the catcher reaches base in his at-bat so the catcher can go back to the dugout and put his catching gear on and be ready for the next half inning.
"With courtesy runners you have more pickoff attempts at first base," Mason said.
Plus, on a small roster of 25 active players, the courtesy runner would end up being one of the few players who is supposed to have the day off or a pitcher.
"With the courtesy runner rule, everybody is playing," Mason said. "Now you have injuries and wear and tear on guys because they're playing more games in a row."
The league also wants to limit defensive timeouts, or mound visits, to three a game for each team, excluding pitching changes.
"Now we're in the eighth inning and I got my reliever out there and they're putting a pinch-hitter in and I can't go to the mound?" Mason said. "I can't give my pitcher a scouting report on this guy?"
I don't really have a problem with the remaining three rules: a pitcher can now intentionally walk a batter without throwing a pitch; upon receiving the ball, a pitcher will have 12 seconds to deliver his next pitch to home plate when the bases are unoccupied; and a batter must receive permission from the home-plate umpire to step out of the batter's box.
MLB's problem: With these tactics, some Atlantic League officials are likely hoping to serve as an example to Major League Baseball because they think this pace-of-play ordeal is across all levels of baseball. Except it's not. It's MLB's problem.
In 2012, completion times of games in MLB rose to a record pace of three hours, up from the average of 2:30 in the 1970s. There are many reasons for this. The main one is MLB survives on fat TV contracts much more than it does at the gates, which is probably the reason why there doesn't seem to be much concern with attendance being down for 17 of the MLB's 30 teams this season. And it's also a reason why commercial breaks between half innings last two to three minutes, adding to the lengths of games.
Bad for the league: The Atlantic League is hoping to implement its new rules beginning Friday. It'll be interesting to see what damage will be caused as a result. Because there will be damage. If you don't believe me, just ask Revs' starting pitcher Alain Quijano.
"For the credibility of this league and what I've heard about this league and the standards it has, why would you do that when this league is supposed to be the best league in all of independent baseball?" Quijano said last Monday.
— Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.