Catchers weigh in: Mound-visit limit not an issue - for now

Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star / Getty

When Major League Baseball rolled out the new mound-visit rule in February, limiting catchers et al to six trips to the bump per nine innings without a pitching change, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative from game-callers across the league.

Francisco Cervelli, who has been catching in the big leagues since 2008, described the new policy as the "the worst thing (he'd) ever heard." Tucker Barnhart, who earned his first career Gold Glove award last year, was similarly opposed, insisting that a limit on mound visits "messes with the game." Willson Contreras, who turned 26 in May and will play in his first All-Star Game later this month, functionally refused to bend to the new rule, saying he'd happily pay any fine incurred for exceeding the limit.

The consternation may have been overblown. For now, at least.

If three-plus months of data are to be trusted, the mound-visit rule - implemented for 2018 in tandem with shorter commercial breaks - has helped chop the average running time for a nine-inning game to two hours, 59 minutes, a drop of roughly six minutes from 2017. Perhaps more importantly, though, the limit hasn't yet felt oppressive to those who bristled the hardest when it was introduced.

"I've never really come close to using them all," Austin Romine, the longtime New York Yankees backup recently thrust into starting duty due to an injury to Gary Sanchez, told theScore. "I mean, it hasn't even really been an issue for me. I haven't really noticed it. It hasn't come into play, like, 'Man, I can't go out there.'

"I think there's enough (visits) there. Six is plenty. It hasn't really come into play, into strategy, or anything like that for us in any way."

His sentiment is shared by Luke Maile, the Toronto Blue Jays backup who acknowledged that the rule has already conditioned catchers not to go out unless it's absolutely essential. (The data bears this out, too. In April, Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY cited MLB data that pegged the average number of mound visits without a pitching change at 3.78 per game, good for a year-over-year dropoff of nearly 49 percent.)

"I think the spirit of the rule that they were trying to achieve, I think they accomplished that just by making it in the back of your mind that you can't just run out there whenever you want," Maile said. "But I've never had a game yet where I've had it in the back of my mind that I couldn't go out and share valuable information or get some valuable information because of how many (visits) we had left. It hasn't come into play for me, personally, at all."

Theoretically, Maile said, with the limit in place, catchers may be less inclined to initiate those conferences motivated more by gamesmanship than a pressing need to exchange information. In practice, however, it's never deterred him.

"The one thing that might come into play every once in a while is maybe just (opting against a visit) to break up momentum," Maile said. "You're a little more hesitant to do it. But, again, you get six of them and there's only nine innings before you get another one, so for me, it hasn't even come close (to being an issue).

"Any time I've wanted to go out, I've gone out."

Still, the promising early returns aren't necessarily indicative of the rule's soundness to Russell Martin. As he sees it, there's a direct correlation between proximity to the postseason and the potential for the rule to screw a team over.

"It hasn't been an issue, but I still believe that it can potentially be," said Martin, a four-time All-Star who has played into October in nine of his 12 completed big-league seasons. "I think now that we've kind of gotten accustomed to it, it's definitely manageable. It doesn't really feel like it's changing the game to where people are going to complain about it.

"When it is going to be (a problem), it's going to be in, like, a super big situation. It could happen. I could totally see it happening. Because the later you get into the season, the more meaningful every game gets, the more magnified every situation is. When you got your season on the line or something, you're not really thinking about your (visits), you're thinking about, 'Okay, now this information might be relevant because this (situation) is, like, everything right now.' And you tend to see more mound visits the more important the games get later in the season, so it'll be interesting to see what happens."

To this point, though, everything has been copacetic.

"I think it's helped because the teams that used to go out and visit, like, two, three times an inning aren't doing it anymore, and (those visits) slow down the game tremendously. It was a good call. (Pause). So far."

Moreover, despite the so-far innocuousness of the rule, Martin remains leery of any further pace-of-play initiatives.

"I mean, the game of baseball is the game of baseball. It's not a fast-paced game," Martin said. "I don't think it ever will be. But I think it's running pretty smooth. I don't hear anybody that's a fan of baseball talk about pace of play. It's normally people that aren't fans of baseball that are the ones saying, like, 'Oh, it's so slow.' That's just how I feel about it. If you don't like the pace of baseball, watch another sport, you know what I mean? Golf is a slow-paced game and I don't see them making the guys jog to their ball and hit the next one."

For his part, Romine wouldn't be disappointed, either, if the commissioner's office opted not to introduce any more legislation to speed the game up.

"I'm a big (proponent) of baseball (being) good the way it is," he said. "I was brought up a little old-school so I don't think more rules is necessarily the answer, maybe just refining the ones that we do have."

So far, the limit on mound visits doesn't seem to need any refinement. Whether that's still the case come October remains to be seen.

Catchers weigh in: Mound-visit limit not an issue - for now
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