As a member of Major League Baseball’s competition committee, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has dissected the ins and outs of the game’s potential pace-of-play rule changes that could be installed this season, and he said Thursday night on the 105.7 The Fan Hot Stove radio show that the adjustments should be good for the game.
According to reports, MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association are at an impasse, with the union unwilling to agree on changes that would include a pitch clock and limiting trips to the mound. Commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t need the union’s approval to install the changes, but he’d like to have it to quell what seems to be growing tension between the sides. The union’s saber-rattling on the issue doesn’t appear to be entirely based in the pace-of-play changes but also in frustration in the clubs’ role in a slow-moving free-agent market this offseason that has left many players without teams with less than a month before spring training.
“But the way they’re going to do it, it needs to be done,” Showalter said. “It’s a good move. It’s not going to affect the pitchers. It’s going to affect the hitters, and if we can take the game from three-plus [hours] to under three, it’s a better game. Believe me, the stuff that’s going to go into play, you’re barely going to notice it except in the time of game a little bit. And why anybody would say and deny it, I’m anxious to look it up. I’m pretty simple. I knew it was coming and there’s really nothing the players can do about it.”
If the union doesn’t agree on an upgraded proposal from MLB that uses pitch clocks situationally — the sides are scheduled to meet again next week, according to The Athletic — Manfred can implement pace-of-play rules under the most-recent Collective Bargaining Agreement that would include bringing the 20-second pitch clock, previously tested in the minors, to the major leagues, and limit mound visits to one an inning.
The game implemented new pace-of-play rules in 2015 that forced players to leave one foot in the batter’s box between most pitches. And while that rule change was effective, it faded by the end of the year as players were willing to take the fines associated with violating the rule. But violating these new rules would actually have an impact on the game, with pitchers who are too slow to the plate being charged with a ball after a warning and hitters who aren’t in the batter’s box getting charged with a strike without a warning.
If maintaining 20 seconds between pitches is the standard MLB wants, it would be a far cry from the current pace, as no team averaged less than 22.7 seconds between pitches last season. The Orioles ranked ninth fastest in pitchers’ pace between pitches (23.9) and 12th fastest in batters’ pace (24.1).
Among pitchers who logged more than 30 innings last year, Orioles right-hander Darren O’Day was 10th slowest in pace, averaging 29.5 seconds between pitches. Injured closer Zach Britton was the only other current Orioles pitcher among the 100 slowest, ranking 40th at 27.8 seconds.
Among qualified hitters last season, shortstop Tim Beckham (18th, 26.3 seconds between pitches), center fielder Adam Jones (27th, 25.8 seconds) and designated hitter Mark Trumbo (29th, 25.7) were among the 30 slowest hitters in terms of pace.
In the past, Showalter has bristled about games getting slower, especially within the division, and three American League East teams — the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox — were among the 12 slowest clubs.
Also from Showalter’s appearance on 105.7 The Fan:
» He said he’s planning for Manny Machado to start the season with the Orioles and said he has an idea of where Machado would play in the field after his desire to move to shortstop became apparent this offseason.
“I know some of the things that people have floated around out there and I sure wouldn’t do it,” Showalter said. “But I’m biased. I’d like to have Manny. … Believe me, I’m preparing to start the season [with him].
“They’re two capable guys who can play,” Showalter said of Machado and Beckham regarding the shortstop position. “You know, Manny is a shortstop, was a shortstop, and if you don’t think he has that in his heart out of the respect he had for J.J. [Hardy, now a free agent] and how good J.J. was. I know what is in his heart and what he’d like to happen, and he’s very respectful of his teammates.
“This is something I do not want to go to spring training with hanging over anybody’s [head]. … In my gut, I know where we’re going, but I’m not going to jump the gun on something. I’m going to talk to Manny. I’m going to talk to Beck, and we’re going to come up with something that makes the Orioles the best possible. And there’s enough in the pie for everybody. There’s plenty to go around. Tim’s capable of playing a lot of positions, and Manny is, too, and it doesn’t increase or decrease value or what they’re going to be able to reap [in] salary contract-wise. So it will all work out as long as we keep in mind what’s best for the Orioles.”
Showalter applauded the work Beckham has done in the offseason. Beckham is in Beverly Hills, Calif., working out with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson and is also expected to work with infield coach Bobby Dickerson before heading to spring training. Asked whether he’d be open to taking a longer look at Beckham all over the field, including the outfield, Showalter said he already has.
“He’s done it,” Showalter said. “It’s not something that would be new to him. Tim just wants a chance to contribute and he’s going to get one.”
» Showalter said he didn’t think the Orioles would be in play for free-agent pitchers such as Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn, or top-tier starters Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish,
“Right now with what they’re asking for, I wouldn’t sign them,” Showalter said. “That’s just me. If you sign those three or four guys, does that put you in the World Series? There’s too many other things going on.”
Showalter pressed for fans who might be frustrated by the Orioles’ slow offseason activity to show patience and have trust the club won’t make a haphazard signing it could pay for later.
“Just bear with us, so if you want to jump the gun and give somebody a four- or five-year deal and they’re hurt for three years or [something like] that and they don’t pitch well, and we’re all going, ‘Why’d you sign that guy?’ like some people we’ve had for three or four years, then let’s go ahead and jump the gun,” he added. “If we want to be patient and make good decisions for the organization for the short term and the long term, bear with us.”
» Asked about his desire to stay in Baltimore beyond 2018, which is the final year of his current contract, Showalter worked to get ahead of talk that could hound him throughout the season, saying there’s always uncertainty around the game and that most people in the business are working under one-year deals.
“Why should I be any different?” Showalter said. “Manny, does he know where he’s going to be next year? Zach Britton? Adam Jones? Caleb Joseph? Dan? The coaches? We’re all operating on one-year deals. I mean, who am I? I’m lucky to have that. I mean, come on. It’s not a topic at all at our house. … I get kind of sideways when I see these people at a distance [asking], ‘Oh, what about next year?’ What about right now? What about today? What have we done to make the Orioles better, and then the next day and the next day and then something’s going to stand the test of time.
“It’s pretty selfish to think that should be some focus during a baseball season and you’re the only one going through that. … People sitting at home don’t want to hear that, so give me a break.”