Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association jointly announced modifications to a series of rules today, all of which have been approved and will be implemented for the 2017 season (Twitter link). The most notable of the bunch include approval of an automatic intentional walk that does not require any pitches to be thrown, a 30-second limit for a manager to request a replay review, and a “conditional” two-minute guideline for officials to reach a determination on a review case. (The announcement notes that there are “various exceptions” but does not elaborate.) Additionally, Crew Chiefs can now invoke replay reviews of non-home-run calls even after a manager is out of challenges beginning in the eighth inning, as opposed to the seventh inning.
Over the course of the 2016-17 offseason, a number of potential rule changes have been floated — ranging from fairly mild in nature (e.g. today’s implementations) to extreme (e.g. Jeff Passan’s report of placing a runner on second base to open an inning at a certain point in extra innings and Jayson Stark’s report of potential strike zone alterations). While the elimination of the traditional four-pitch intentional walk has drawn its fair share of ire from fans and from some players, last season saw an intentional free pass issued just over once every third game during the regular season, so the change isn’t exactly radical. Then again, because of the infrequency of intentional walks, there’s also some merit to the argument that the change doesn’t impact the pace of play enough to merit implementation.
Beyond those two rules, there was also an amendment made in regard to the positioning of base coaches prior to the delivery of a pitch. (Effectively, they must be positioned at the intersection of the coaching box line that is closest to the plate and the line that runs parallel to the foul line when the pitch is delivered but are free to move to signal a player when a ball is in play). It is also now expressly forbidden to use any type of on-field markers that could serve as a reference for the positioning of defenders. And, the league made an addition to Rule 5.07, which seems to carry a direct correlation to Carter Capps’ unorthodox and controversial delivery.
Per the league’s announcement, the rule now “stipulates that a player may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch.” Doing so with the bases empty will result in an illegal pitch, while doing so with runners aboard will result in a balk.
As Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports (Twitter links), Capps’ “hop-drag” delivery has been interpreted consistently by the league in recent years. Today’s rule change was a formalization of that interpretation. MLB.com’s A.J. Cassavell tweets that the team (and, based on Lin’s tweets, the league) interpret this to mean that Capps can legally drag his foot during his delivery so long as he does not pick the foot up and reset it.