MLB Reportedly Approves Change to Intentional Walk Rule

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2017

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 07: Catcher Travis d'Arnaud #18 of the New York Mets signals for an intentional walk to Justin Upton #8 of the Detroit Tigers in the eighth inning during a MLB game at Comerica Park on August 7, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. The Mets defeated the Tigers 3-1. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)*** Local Caption *** Travis d'Arnaud;Justin Upton
Dave Reginek/Getty Images

The days of throwing four pitches for an intentional walk are reportedly over in Major League Baseball.

On Tuesday, Howard Bryant of ESPN The Magazine reported MLB approved the use of a dugout signal instead of the traditional four-pitch walk when a team wants to grant an opposing batter a free pass to first base, starting in the 2017 season.

There was only an intentional walk every 2.6 games during the 2016 campaign.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale confirmed the news and added there will also be "a two-minute limit this year for instant replay reviews" and "pace of game warnings and fines."

An Associated Press and ESPN.com report noted "MLB saw the practice of lobbing four meaningless pitches as antiquated" even though the infrequency of the practice will limit the new rule's impact on pace of play.

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com had reported Feb. 6 that MLB proposed the intentional walk change and the raising of the bottom of the strike zone in an effort to speed up the game.

The matter is important to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who said early this month, per Nightengale: "I will say that pace of play is an issue that we need to be focused on. And the 'we' there is players, owners, umpires...everyone who is invested in this game."

In July, Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight reported the average MLB game was three hours long—just two minutes off the all-time high set in 2014.

MLB already turned heads this offseason when it instituted a test rule in the Gulf Coast League and Arizona League that will put a runner on second base in extra innings in an effort to avoid marathon games that burn through bullpens, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

Before reports of the new intentional walk rule surfaced, Manfred said Tuesday there wouldn't be significant rule changes for the 2017 campaign because of a "lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," per Passan.

It wasn't for a lack of trying, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle noted a pitch clock, strike zone changes and the number of mound visits were all topics of discussion between MLB and the MLB Players Association. According to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, Manfred was particularly upset with the union because it didn't agree to limit mound trips.

While that remains a point of contention in the pace-of-play fight, MLB at least reduced the time it takes to intentionally walk a batter.