Atlantic League Makes Big Push To Speed Up Baseball

The Atlantic League doesn’t want to see many three hour baseball games.

After watching the time of the average Atlantic League game grow to nearly three hours in recent years, the league is spending the 2013 season finding new ways to bring back the quicker pace of games of 25-50 years ago.

In the days before batters stepped out to refocus after every pitch and pitching changes were a rare rather than every late inning occurrence, it was normal to be leaving the ball park less than two and a half hours after you arrived. Nowadays any game that cracks the 2:30 mark is seen as a quick game.

The Atlantic League is trying to change that with a lot of new rules aimed at speeding up the pace. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that the Atlantic League is adding a few new rules and enforcing a lot of rules that were already in the books, but that had been wiped away by common practice.

For instance, the Official Rules of Baseball describe the strike zone as stretching from the hollow beneath the kneecap to the midpoint between the shoulder and the batter’s waist. In reality, the high strike at the letters has almost always been called a ball in recent years. In the Atlantic League, it’s now a strike again. The rulebook also prohibits batters from leaving the dirt surrounding the batter’s box during an at-bat unless time is called. And time is only supposed to be called for substitutions or team conferences. In the Atlantic League, hitters are now told that they cannot step out of the batter’s box after every pitch, as is the custom for many hitters.

The league will also put a pitch clock on pitchers. When no one is on base, they have to deliver a pitch in 12 seconds. If they don’t the umpire is told to call a ball. Pitchers have also been informed that their between inning eight pitch warmup must take one minute or less. Between innings umpires are told to get the next inning going in 90 seconds instead of the two to two and a half minutes the league was previously taking.

The Atlantic League has not changed any rules about pitching visits, but it has informed the teams that it is monitoring trips to the mound and reserves the right to alter the rules on pitching visits later this year. Managers are strongly encouraged to make pitching changes between innings.

All of these changes are wrapped up by a rule that any game that takes longer than two hours and 45 minutes requires a written report to be filed by the umpires, managers, official scorer and home team general manager and sent to the league office explaining why the game took so long.

It’s a series of tweaks that should prove quite fan friendly because of the quickened pace, but they also are an example of something independent leagues should take advantage of–the chance to experiment and try to improve the game. Adopting all the changes the Atlantic League rolled out in one year would likely frustrate many big league players and many traditionalist fans. The Atlantic League can adopt a sweeping series of changes, find which ones work and which ones don’t and then watch as some of the ideas potentially spread to other leagues. And even significant changes such as calling high strikes have not lead to a dramatic difference in what’s been seen on the field. The league’s strikeout rate of 23 percent of at-bats falls right in line with that of affiliated ball’s Triple-A leagues.

A week into the season, the tweaks appear to be making a significant difference. The average Atlantic League game, including extra inning games, is taking 2:24. Compare that to a 2:49 average for nine inning games in the affiliated minors and it appears the Atlantic League has managed to shave significant minutes off the time and pace of the game.

“We are not trying to change the game, only to help to keep it in tune with the times,” said Atlantic League executive director Joe Klein in a league release.