What If Rule 8.04 Was Enforced?
How much faster would a baseball game go if MLB simply enforced an existing rule? We found out.
By Eric Gouldsberry, This Great Game—Posted November 24, 2021
Once upon a time, the average Major League Baseball game lasted close to two and a half hours. People came to the ballpark, enjoyed the flow of the game, got home at a reasonable time and had a good night’s sleep.
The game today is different. Not the rules; they’re basically still the same as ever. What has changed is the culture of the game. Pitchers and hitters take more time between pitches than ever before. There are more pitching changes per game. Video reviews sometimes suck up close to five minutes. Two and a half hours? Forget it. The length of the average baseball game is now three hours and 10 minutes. It’s made some fans think twice about going to night games in particular because, you know, people want to get home sometime before midnight.
MLB is well aware of today’s marathons and have tried this, that and the other thing to trim the clock. They’ve introduced pitchless intentional walks, quotas on mound visits, and the three-batter rule for relievers. And yet, the time of game keeps inching toward the length of The Ten Commandments.
Strangely enough, while MLB keeps devising all these offbeat, rash ideas that haven’t reversed the time-stretching trend, it’s basically ignored Rule 8.04, which technically still exists. The text is not complicated; Rule 8.04 simply states, “When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call ‘Ball.’”
Why hasn’t MLB enforced this rule? Do they fear that umpires will ignore it, or that the players’ union will protest? Perhaps they could, but how do you willfully ignore or protest an existing rule?
So we did some research on Rule 8.04’s potential effect. We watched two games, both via the mlb.tv archive, that were as average as it could get in 2021; they were full nine-inning games with roughly the average time of game (3:10), the average number of pitchers (300), average total pitchers used (nine) and average amount of baserunners (23). Both were American League games played to 6-2 results; a May 19 contest between the Detroit Tigers and Mariners at Seattle, and a Fourth of July game at Kansas City with the Royals taking on the Minnesota Twins.
We clocked the time between pitches to see how much time would have been saved had pitchers delivered their offerings within the required 12 seconds. While we checked the length between pitches when the bases were “unoccupied” as the rule states, we ignored the delivery time after foul balls and situations when players or umpires called time.
Almost immediately, we found in both games that the starting pitchers were mostly in compliance with the 12-second rule—at least the first time through the opposing team’s lineup. Detroit’s Tarik Skubal, in particular, was taking as little as seven ticks between pitches. Somewhere, commissioner Rob Manfred would be smiling ear-to-ear to hear news like that.
Minnesota’s Kenta Maeda was the slowpoke of the group and proved that not all starting pitchers are the same. Though he hummed along for six shutout innings against the Royals, Maeda threw almost no pitches within the 12-second limit. His slower pace could be contributed to his slow-motion wind-up, which starts with both arms high above his head before slowly bringing them down and then whipping the ball to the plate. If the 12-second rule is to be taken seriously by MLB and the umpires, pitchers like Maeda may have to rethink their delivery technique.
As we made our observations, a few things became apparent. One, the pitcher was not always at fault for violating Rule 8.04. Hitters were taking their time, too; a few years back, MLB had ordered them to stay in the batter’s box between pitches and not waste time, at the risk of earning fines. That helped, but there was still a lot of readjusting going on within the box even as they didn’t swing at the previous pitch. Obviously, such actions can’t place the blame for a 12-second violation on the pitcher—so in fairness, perhaps Rule 8.04 needs to be amended to allow the umpire to call “strike” if the hitter ends up being the one causing the delay.
Also, if Rule 8.04 is ever taken seriously, you can bet on pitchers, hitters and catchers repeatedly calling ‘time’ at an almost abusive rate to legally slow the pace to their liking. Neither the rulebook nor umpires can stop that—though of course, Mr. Manfred can slap another quota on the game and limit the number of time outs called in an inning. And at that point, between the other quotas involving mound visits, video reviews and what have you, umpires are going to need an accounting degree to apply for a job behind the plate.
Things began to slow down once the starters faced the opposing lineup the second time through. Pitchers recall what this batter and that one did the first time up and possibly make adjustments—requiring extra thought and, thus, extra time. Fatigue may also play a role. Which leads us back to Kenta Maeda; in between his final two pitches of his day, he took 32 seconds to deliver—a whopping 20 seconds over the limit. Even the Kansas City broadcast crew noted how Maeda was slowing down and starting to appeared tired out on a toasty afternoon.
Relievers proved to be anything but in a hurry. Granted, they weren’t all like Pedro Baez, the former Los Angeles Dodgers slug who once averaged 30 seconds between pitches. (Baez’s consistent loitering led him to be the second major leaguer nicknamed the Human Rain Delay, after 1970s-1980s first baseman Mike Hargrove). Unlike the starters, relievers were typically more deliberate in their pace; after all, they weren’t looking to establish a quick groove to get through six innings or more. Instead, they constantly engaged in a sometime endless staring contest with the hitter and/or catcher—even with no one on base. If often led the Scotsmen in us to yell, “Get on with it, man!”
So now comes the answer to the question everyone wants to know: How much time would have been saved by enforcing Rule 8.04 in these two games? Somewhat surprisingly, both contests yielded a sizeable variance in results. The Detroit-Seattle game wasted only four minutes and 15 seconds beyond the 12-second limit. The Minnesota-Kansas City game, on the other hand, took up 10 minutes and nine seconds of violation time.
Both of these totals were lower than are initial expectations; we had thought that the average time chewed away would have been more in the 15-to-20-minute range. While these two games represent a small sample size of what’s a more likely average, it’s reasonable to assume that the actual, typical waste per game is somewhere in between.
So would a strict enforcement of Rule 8.04 please everyone? Would the five-to-10 minutes cut away from the average time of game be worth it? That’s up to everyone who has a say: The power brokers at MLB headquarters, the players’ union trying to protect their constituents, and the fans who determine whether they want to chance not being home before midnight.
One thing is for sure: Rule 8.04 is certainly the better option over the latest desperate, silly quota/rule gimmick by MLB that would shave away seconds, not minutes.
Yes, MLB has been threatening to use a pitch clock and has even experimented with it in the minors. But it’s already got Rule 8.04. Use it. After all, someone back in the day sure thought it was an idea good enough to include in the rulebook.