A Wrinkle in Fixing Time

Time is undefeated. To fight it is to lose, and a waste of it. To kill some is a waste of your own. The knighted bloke best known for proclaiming time was on his side? He’s 74 now. Time — as one lord of it has said — is a wibbly wobbly timey wimey enterprise.

Apparently, Major League Baseball likes a challenge. Among their new pace-of-play solutions is to limit “mound visits” to six per team every nine innings, with one bonus visitation for each extra inning.

Everybody knows that visiting a pitcher to take the ball away from his failed, sweaty hands does not count as a mound visit, but the new limitation still leads to many questions — and varying, vague answers. The punishment for a forbidden seventh “mound visit,” for example. Commissioner Rob Manfred said there would be an automatic pitching change. MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre then said that would only happen if a pitching coach or manager had the seventh chat. Or the catcher gets ejected. Or everybody gets to stay, because the seventh visit is allowed if the pitcher and catcher clearly get “crossed up.”

What counts as a “mound visit”? This is the official explanation on MLB’s website:

Any manager, coach or player visit to the mound counts as a mound visit under this rule, though visits to the mound to clean cleats in rainy weather, to check on a potential injury or after the announcement of an offensive substitution are excepted. Normal communication between a player and pitcher that doesn’t require either to vacate his position on the field doesn’t count as a visit.

Torre has been touring spring training camps to better explain to each team what the actual rules are. So far, managers have said they have a better understanding following Torre’s visit without elaborating as to how, exactly. The umpires aren’t entirely clear on the rules yet, either. Umpire Jeff Kellogg told the Twins there was a “mound visit” the other day when pitcher Phil Hughes walked over to his catcher Mitch Garver after taking a foul ball to the helmet. “When a guy takes a ball off the mask, [I’m] just checking to see if he’s all right and give him a second,” Hughes told the Star-Tribune. “We’re not talking about strategy or anything. [Kellogg] said as he understands it now, [it counts anyway], but he wouldn’t be surprised if some memos go out to clarify things.”

How will teams limit their visits? New Mets manager Mickey Callaway thinks giving catchers “cheat sheet” wristbands will help. New Red Sox manager Alex Cora asked his pitchers and catchers to come up with their own bright ideas on how to change signs without moving from their positions, with the promise of a free dinner for the best idea. (Most of the mound visits occur when there’s a runner on second and the signs have to be changed.) If the very first game of spring training is any indication, the Red Sox really could stand to develop a think tank or two.

MLB/NESN

One question that doesn’t seem to be getting asked is: how did Major League Baseball arrive at six, specifically? I know it sounds silly to suggest they plucked that number on an absolute whim, or because it was Joe Torre’s now-retired jersey number on the Yankees, but I haven’t heard or read any better theories. So I did what any sane person would and watched an entire day’s worth of baseball to see how badly this mound-visit scourge had destroyed the game we love.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017, is the day I chose to observe — a time when it would be still early enough in the season for a team to believe each game mattered but also late enough that everyone had fallen into their natural baseball rhythms. No player would be in a particular rush because it’s a getaway day. It was perfect

Unfortunately, Major League Baseball’s YouTube channel did not cooperate. Only nine games from that night were available for reexamination, but four games from the night before were, as well. Wednesday afternoon’s contest between the Marlins and A’s and Thursday afternoon’s Mariners vs. Nationals affair were also available, covering all 30 teams and whatever specific temporal peccadillos they might possess.

One thing I noticed right away was that not every “mound visit” was caught on air. Sometimes secret communiques occurred after a pitcher had served up a home run. Broadcasts tended to show multiple replays of the home run before going back to live action, at which point I could see the catcher returning to his squat position, either after a quick conversation with his battery mate or taking advantage of a break in the action to stand and stretch his legs. These post-homer visits had no effect on length of game, however, so I stopped worrying about it.

I also tried to find an alternative broadcast of the same game at moments I suspected there was a missed “mound visit.” The Padres broadcast, for example, exclusively documented the exchange depicted below. It turned out Jose Reyes had 19 stolen bases and one stolen moment with Matt Harvey last year.

MLB/Fox Sports San Diego

The real problem in determining which teams surpassed the six-mound-visit limit was figuring out which exchanges counted or not. When it comes to the obvious ones — when a pitching coach or manager talks to the pitcher on the mound without taking him out — only the Texas Rangers surpassed six. When you consider the spirit of the law — when a player relocates but hardly takes up any time at all — the Colorado Rockies joined the Rangers as the lone guilty parties. What’s funny is, one of those teams won. By s-i-x runs.

The Time Bandits

Texas Rangers
Definite Mound Visits: 8
Additional Suspected Mound Visits: 4

Here were the eight blatant mound visits from this game. Poor Jonathan Lucroy had a lot to say:

MLB/Fox Sports Southwest

MLB/Fox Sports Southwest

MLB/Fox Sports Southwest

MLB/Fox Sports Southwest

MLB/Fox Sports Southwest

MLB/Fox Sports Southwest

MLB/Fox Sports Southwest

Lucroy told Jeremy Jeffress not to throw a wild pitch and allow a run to score, but Jeffress thought he said to do that. It happens.

For the eighth and final definitive “mound visit,” Mike Napoli came over from first base to tell reliever Alex Claudio not to balk in another run, and would you believe it…

MLB/Fox Sports Southwest

Then there are the iffy incidents, starting with what was 99% likely to have been a ninth mound visit, obscured by replay

Here is Joey Gallo making a funny to Dario Alvarez. Does this count? Is Major League Baseball cutting down on humor? Joy?

Lucroy certainly said something to Jeffries here. Then again, time was called by Boston. Is this allowed?

Did Hanley Ramirez mind getting some extra practice cuts here?

Whether he minded or not, Texas in 2018 would have been charged with possibly one dozen chats, double the legal limit. Nobody came close to such unabashed conversation heights.

Colorado Rockies
Definite Mound Visits: 6
Additional Suspected Mound Visits: 1

Colorado won this game 8-2, yet needed at least six talks. We’ll skip the definite visits to save… you know… This is the one about which I’m curious, though:

Tony Wolters and German Marquez most certainly had a conversation about what just happened while Cesar Hernandez caught his breath. Would it have counted? Would Wolters and Marquez have had to avoid speaking even one word about the weird play they either witnessed or lived through right in front of them if the Rockies were at their limit?

The Time Benders

New York Mets
Definite Mound Visits: 5
Additional Suspected Mound Visits: 1

Rene Rivera convinced umpire Bruce Dreckman to take a minute to recover. It looked like the catcher promised the ump he wouldn’t go talk to anybody, not even Josh Smoker. Would this have counted?

Houston Astros
Definite Mound Visits: 5
Additional Suspected Mound Visits: 1

It was catcher Juan Centeno’s 2017 debut, necessitating more chatter than usual. It’s unknown if this would have counted as a mound visit, but I do know he is pretty brave to do this in front of the boss.

Chicago White Sox
Definite Mound Visits: 2
Additional Suspected Mound Visits: 1

Is this convo okay? During a replay where the action stops anyway?

The Time Lords

Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners
Definite Mound Visits: 0
Additional Suspected Mound Visits: 0

Why yes, Clayton Kershaw did start the Dodgers game, how did you guess? It was still impressive to not see one mound visit during the 2-1 victory anyway, considering it went 13 innings.

There were 80 definite mound visits and 23 iffy ones in the 15 games I examined, the equivalent of three or so visits on average per team. It’s not the perfect sample size, though.

Another decent question is if mound visits are worth all the trouble in the first place. In the 71* plate appearances that occurred following a definite mound visit, batters slashed .217/.324/.400. The league average OPS for the entire 2017 season was just slightly higher, at .750. Of course, the sample size is a wee bit small.

* There were some at-bats interrupted more than once; one runner was picked off to end an inning. Hey, remember that balk?

The more runs scored, the more mound visits there tended to be, which seems like another obvious fact. What wasn’t obvious until watching 15 games is what happens during a blowout like Minnesota’s 14-7 victory in Baltimore. That game did not feature an infinite amount of mound visits because, typically, if a team was losing by a decent amount after about the fifth or sixth inning, there were fewer visits because the point was long lost. Pitchers tend to get left alone to contemplate how they found themselves in their mess.

So, six remains continues to seem like an arbitrary figure. The new rules, though, will still change how pitchers, catchers, and even infielders communicate with one another. Some will say it will be another way communication has devolved during these contemporary times. Those same will caution baseball is changing too much. Of course baseball is changing. Everything changes. It’s a matter of time.

We hoped you liked reading A Wrinkle in Fixing Time by Roger Cormier!

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Bless his heart, Roger was reared in Brooklyn, New York. He co-founded and co-hosts the Good Fundies podcast and website. He's too busy and self-involved to hate your favorite team. @yayroger and @goodfundies on Twitter.

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Werthless
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This argument is incontrovertible.