Shorter games. More action in the batter’s box and on the bases. Outs becoming hits again. Major League Baseball’s new rules seem to have near universal appeal among fans. But what do the players think?
We asked ESPN MLB reporters Alden Gonzalez, Joon Lee and Jesse Rogers to sit down with a handful of players and managers to find out how the new rules are affecting them. This isn’t a scientific survey — just a chance for a few thoughtful big leaguers to speak in depth about how they feel about the radical changes to their sport.
What’s your favorite thing about the new rules so far?
Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs outfielder: Not having the shift. Being able to have some of those ground balls be hits is huge, rewarding guys for hard-hit balls. And the line drive being back in play. I think I’ve had two hits so far that would have been outs.
Blake Snell, San Diego Padres starting pitcher: None that I can think of.
Mark Canha, New York Mets outfielder: Favorite thing — the games being over in 2½ hours more often than 3½ hours. I do remember last year my garage near my apartment where I was parking my car closed at 12. So it’d be like [with] my wife and my kids, it was a rush to get home just to make it to the garage sometimes.
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Matt Moore, Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher: I don’t know that I have a favorite thing, but it is nice feeling like the game has been condensed down to more of a reasonable time frame. As a reliever now I’m heading out [to the bullpen] in the third inning, and you no longer have an hour ’til the end of the third inning. It’s like, ‘Hey, I might have a half hour.’ The pace of the game, and depending on which matchup it is — the other day it was [Tyler Anderson] and [Zack] Greinke, and we were in the fourth inning after like 30 minutes. It was very quick. So that’s one thing that I do like.
Tony Kemp, Oakland Athletics outfielder/infielder: Probably my favorite rule has been the disengagement limits, because I think sometimes it [used to] get to be too much. It can get repetitive, and pitchers fall into a rhythm of like three or four times throwing over, and it prolongs the game.
Elvis Andrus, Chicago White Sox shortstop: The bigger bases. It’s a lot easier for everything: stealing, making double plays. It’s helped the game a lot. I think that’s the only one I like.
Kyle Higashioka, New York Yankees catcher: I like the runner on second [base] in extra [innings] because I don’t want to play 18 innings, and sometimes those games when it’s 0-0 or 1-1, it’s destined to go six more innings. You’re just dreading it. So now at least the thing is both teams get their chance no matter what. I think it just ends the game quicker and it’s actually pretty exciting because it’s high stakes immediately.
Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays manager: Pitch clock. The pace of game. It’s helped baseball. I’ve enjoyed it. I hope the fans have enjoyed it. It’s obviously a faster pace and seemed to have created a little bit more action in the game, which is a good thing.
What’s one thing about the rule changes you think needs improvement?
Happ: I’d give the pitcher one disengagement with no one on and probably make the clock 17 seconds with no one on base.
Canha: Make the pitch clock 20 seconds [with the bases empty] instead of 15 seconds. Give the pitchers and hitters a little bit more time because we can get gassed when there’s a long at-bat. I like to step in and breathe and try to clear my head before I hit, and guys aren’t getting an opportunity to go through their routine. I don’t like it when I’m up there. I think the game moving faster is a good thing, but it feels rushed. It feels like you’re getting winded while the at-bat’s happening because you’re exerting a lot of energy to slow the bat down and catch your breath. It does feel a little bit ridiculous. I think I had a 13-pitch at-bat with Clayton Kershaw the other day in L.A. and it was like, by the end of it, you’re looking at each other. This is f—ing crazy. Me and Kershaw are like, we could kind of feel it through your eyes and vibe. He’s at the end of his outing. The crowd’s getting into it. He’s trying to win his 200th game and the emotions are picking up. That situation, it was so silly. I think if I were to make an amendment to the rule, not that anyone cares or will take my advice, but I would say once you get to 3-2, you should get another timeout.
Moore: I think a pitcher can get a timeout, like the hitter does with two strikes, but we can take it any time. I don’t really love the fact that I can’t call time. Look, I’m not a “it’s not fair” type of guy, but there really should be something for the pitcher. The other day I’m in Boston and I have mud on my cleats, and I can feel this pressure. Like, I’m not comfortable because my spikes are clogged up, and the clock is ticking. The umpire [made an exception for me this time], but it’s not the same. The thing I like about it is the game is quicker; the moments that matter are tied closer together. But I don’t really enjoy — now I’m throwing in a tighter ballgame in the second half of the game. I’d like to have a different feeling than, “I have to get going.” Maybe I want to take a breath. Maybe the moment coming up — this is what the game is going to come down to, that at-bat right here. And I don’t want to feel like I’m rushing a decision, or trying to just get the ball out just because of the clock.
Snell: Stolen bases. It’s a joke. Can’t throw no one out. You have to be 1.2/1.3 [seconds] to the plate. If you pick twice, they’re getting crazy jumps and leads. Stolen bases are a joke. And the bases are closer. The game was made perfectly and they changed the game. I need to be better at pressing buttons [on the PitchCom device]. Sometimes you’re thinking about how to attack a hitter, then you need to hit the buttons. I’d like to be able to say I’m pressing the wrong buttons. More time would help.
Kemp: I think the pitch clock needs to have a little bit of feel in terms of, like, later in the game, seventh, eighth, ninth. You’re so locked in on what you gotta do, but also you have to worry about a clock. I don’t know if you saw [33-year-old rookie] Drew Maggi. He got called on a [pitch-clock violation]. It’s like, “Come on.” … I always have to make sure I’m checking where the clock is. That sucks. … I got banged for a violation two games ago, to start an at-bat out in the eighth. Walking up to the plate, getting my bearings and stuff like that and then, “Pitch-clock violation.” I mean — is it good for the speed of the game? Yeah, it’s good. But I think in certain situations you need to make an adjustment.
Andrus: The beginning of every inning I would make it like the beginning of the game, there’s no clock. Then as soon as you step in, you get the clock on. If you’re a catcher or center fielder, you don’t even have time to grab a cup of water. That’s the only tweak that I would do.
Cash: I’d eliminate the limit on throwovers. I think that’s stupid.
Higashioka: The new [pickoffs] rule does kind of hang the catchers out to dry, I think a little bit, because there’s really not much more we can do other than make sure we’re making a good throw, make sure the pitchers are quick to the plate, and we try to use our picks strategically.
Oliver Marmol, St. Louis Cardinals manager: Once in a while, it would be nice, with no runners on, for pitchers to have the ability to [step off]. With the pitch clock, the batter has every opportunity to disengage once per at-bat to gather himself, but a pitcher doesn’t really have a way of doing that without a runner on.
What has been the biggest on-the-field impact of the new rules?
Happ: Stolen bases. I don’t think slug is way up. On-base might be up a tick and batting average might be up, but that’s mostly on singles. The biggest impact is in how much guys are running.
Moore: I think the shift has made a pretty big impact, from what I can see. I haven’t seen any data on it; it’s just anecdotally, my experience shows me that it seems like you have a lot more infielders at spots where there would [typically] be an infielder. So the end range of their positions is matching up with where another position player would typically be with the shift. And so on balls where they almost got there — that’s where they would have the extra guy typically. I can see that. I mean it’s only been a few weeks, but I can see that being a bigger deal.
Kemp: I’d probably say the disengagements [have had the biggest effect] because guys are stealing more. … I think if it was disengagements and same-size bases, it would be the same as it is right now.
Andrus: Timing. The game is so fast. I know for the younger guys, it’s exciting, they like it. But for me, I love the thinking, especially during an at-bat. The last thing you want to be is rushed. This clock rushes you a lot. You have to get used to it and anticipate it.
Cash: When you tell pitchers he’s not allowed to throw over, you’re going to see the immediate effects of baserunners stealing. Fans spoke. That’s what they wanted, so they’re seeing it.
What has surprised you most about the rule changes so far?
Happ: I’m probably surprised by how few violations there have been overall. And [not a lot of] meaningful ones, late in games.
Moore: It’s the time of the game. I mean, I heard about it. All last year people were like, “Oh we’re playing 2½-hour games.” But the other day we played in Oakland at 1 o’clock and I’m back at the hotel at 4:30, and that’s like typically when we’re getting done with the game.
Snell: All the stolen bases and how uncomfortable hitters are with the clock. They looked rushed as much as we do. We both feel rushed.
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Canha: The amount of stolen bases. It’s insane how much everybody’s just running. Let’s just run every time we can. And it feels like sometimes the pitchers just don’t have a chance. Athletes nowadays are so good in the big leagues, it’s a lot. Most guys can run really well. Before, it felt so much harder. And so the percentages of how much it mattered, stealing bases was kind of, in my opinion, an insignificant part of the game. And now it’s becoming much more significant. Somebody is going to break Rickey Henderson’s stolen base record.
Marmol: I’m not sure if anything has been surprising. I’ve liked the pitch clock, but nothing’s been really surprising. It will be interesting to see how teams begin to adjust — how they use their disengagements and pitchouts and things of that nature. We knew we’d see an uptick [in stolen bases], but I didn’t foresee the success rate being as high as it’s been.
Andrus: During spring training I got called [for] a strike twice for being late, but in the season, there hasn’t been anything crazy.
Tommy Pham, Mets outfielder: I got a violation and they had Jeff Nelson behind home plate. And when I walked up, there was 17 seconds up there and he banged me and I was like, “Jeff, there’s 17 seconds up there.” And he was like, “Oh my buzzer’s off.” What? Yeah. It’s just, I don’t know who’s doing the clock operator, but it’s almost like they’re just letting any person do it.
Higashioka: It’s just surprised me how there’s not as many negative effects that I probably could have imagined. At first I thought, oh, it could get dicey. But I think overall the umpires have shown a decent amount of understanding in terms of shutting the clock off when things happen. And it’s also, we’ve gotten used to it. It hasn’t really taken me out of my normal rhythm behind the plate.
How much has your opinion of the new rules changed after one month of play?
Happ: I was pretty bullish going into it. I think seeing it work through spring made it easier to see how it would work through the regular season.
Moore: I don’t think my opinion has changed because I didn’t come into it upset about having a change. I knew there was going to be something I had to do different — just mind the clock. Other than that, it doesn’t really affect me a lot.
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Canha: It’s changed. I still like the pitch clock. The fact that the games aren’t as long. I think the bases being close together and how the pitch clock’s affected the base stealing is a little crazy. If anything, the one thing that we really need to keep our eyes on is the operators of the clock. It’s like wildly inconsistent. There was one time when in San Francisco I was on deck and somebody reached base, Jeff McNeil, and then I’m up to bat and they started the clock at 15 seconds and I’m supposed to have 20 seconds. It’s just like this is playing a big role in affecting how some of these at-bats turn out. But I got into the box and saw that I had 10 seconds left on the clock and I was like, just got up there and I was like, “Oh God.” And then I think Logan Webb was pitching and he got on the mound and he looked at the clock and he has to rush his first pitch and he yanked it out for a ball. I guess it helped me there.
Kemp: A lot of guys are kind of getting used to it, but it’s still taking time. I think the hardest one is when there’s guys on base and a pitcher’s trying to get his bearings [and has to focus on the clock] — that’s not really baseball. Baseball is a thinking game. The game goes long for a reason — because it’s not just go out there and throw throw throw throw throw. It is what it is. You either get with it or get packing, and I like playing in the big leagues.
Andrus: I thought during at-bats it was going to be a really big adjustment for me. It hasn’t. It’s made the game quicker.
Higashioka: A good amount because I was very unsure about the pitch clock at first, and now I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me. I just thought that it could lead to things being rushed in certain aspects of the game. Maybe not as well thought out in terms of you can’t process information fast enough to make a good decision on the next pitch call or something, but overall felt like it’s just still very standard.
What do you hear most when talking to players/teammates about the rule changes?
Snell: I hear them talking or I’ve talked to them about just feeling rushed.
Andrus: Usually pitchers and position players are going to be in different places, but so far I haven’t heard anything negative. You’ll hear one or two comments about it, but nothing drastic.
Moore: I think for the most part, what I’ve seen, most major league players have been really professional about it. It’s affecting the at-bats, it’s affecting the rhythm of the game, the approach of guys, and I haven’t seen many big blowups. I feel like it’s been pretty modest. … As a player, it just feels like there’s not a lot of back-and-forth with the league. It feels like, “Hey, this is what we’re doing. You guys aren’t on board with it, but we’re doing it anyway.” Stuff like that. But it’s the way the CBA is written. They have certain unilateral power and we just kind of have to deal with it. There’s part of it that you feel like you’re not being listened to, but we don’t have the hands on the power like they do. Sometimes screaming in the wind isn’t the best thing for our league to do.
Higashioka: I think they just laugh at the violations that occur around the league. Somebody like Albert Abreu punched the guy out on a violation, so we’re all laughing about it. When that happens, it’s kind of ridiculous, but I mean, everybody knows the rules by now.
Canha: There’s still a learning curve and people are getting used to it and it’s uncomfortable. Certainly the first month. I think maybe four months into it, we will probably be done griping about it.