Interesting, given our discussion on 'Extreme Baseball' a few posts back, to see a set of rule changes announced by MLB, the first amendments in more than a decade. Most significantly, all references "to 'he,' 'him' or 'his' shall be deemed to be a reference to 'she,' 'her' or 'hers'" where applicable. That bodes very well for our mid-season signing of Jennie Finch as a bullpen replacement. ;-) Oh, alright: most of the changes are hardly earth-shattering, but the two rules most likely to have any effect are ones which should speed up the game.
With certain exceptions, a strike will be assessed against the hitter if he (er...or she) violates the rule requiring him (or her) to keep one foot in the batter's box throughout his (or...oh, you get the point!) at-bat. Should cut down on some of the happy wanderers we see, meandering anywhere between third-base and first-base. And on the pitcher's side, a ball will be called if he takes longer than twelve seconds to deliver the ball with no-one on base. That's a 40% cut-back from the current value of 20 seconds - the clock starts from the moment the pitcher receives the ball.
I'm tempted to go through my 2001 World Series Game 7 tape (the only complete game I have as reference), to judge how significant a difference these changes will make. But at least we no longer have our Human Glacier, Claudio Vargas, who pitched at about the speed of a sloth with rigor mortis. I wonder if, for the 12-second rule, they're going to introduce a "pitch clock", similar to the one they have in basketball? If so, I can certainly imagine a few more wild pitches being uncorked, especially early on, as the pitcher suddenly realises he's out of time. Heck, it'd be fun if they had a five-yard penalty for delay of game, and made the offender throw his next pitch from 75 feet rather than 60...
Scuffing or otherwise marking the ball will now get the offender a ten-game suspension. That's quite an increase from the present level, where simply a ball is added to the count, but I don't recall ever seeing that in a major-league game, so I guess it can't be all that prevalent. Similarly, placing foreign substances on the ball gets you the same suspension. I note with some amusement the specific reference in rule 3.02 to the use of "licorice" - as opposed to any other kind of candy, I suppose, which presumably remains legal.
There's a little tidying-up on tied games. Currently, if a tied game is suspended, after it has become "official" in the bottom of the fifth inning, the statistics count, but the game itself doesn't, and must be replayed in its entirety. Now, it resumes before the next scheduled game between the teams at the same ballpark (or at the visitor's ballpark if there are no more home matchups). It'll only be replayed from the start if it's the final meeting between the teams, and is also needed to determine a postseason berth. Which makes more sense, though the number of suspended, tied and official games a year is probably less than one on average.
Of course, it'd probably help if the umpires actually enforced some of the existing rules. My particular peeves include: on-deck batters who regard the on-deck circle as a "serving suggestion"; double-plays where the pivot guy is barely in the same zipcode as second-base; bats which, very obviously, have pine-tar over far more than the 18 inches allowed by the rules; HBPs where the batter makes no effort to avoid the ball (Carlos Quentin deserves an exemption, since in his case it will happen anyway); and worst of all, the strike-zone which expands for rookies, and shrinks to the size of a pea for Barry Bonds. As if he didn't have enough "advantages" - both legal (his body armor) and otherwise - already.
Moving on from perusing rules and regulations, the Tribune is gloomy over our chances to sign first-round pick Max Scherzer. His agent, B.L.Zebub...sorry, Scott Boras, is seeking a Luke Hochevar-sized ($5.3m) contract, but the D'backs offer "is not believed to be close to Hochevar numbers." I liked Josh Byrnes' quote: "We are always balancing risk with reward. Even high-profile college pitchers will show more misses than hits." Is it worth pointing out to Boras that Hochevar was the first overall pick, while Scherzer was skipped by ten teams? Not the same. If Scherzer doesn't get signed, it'll be the second year in a row: he was a Dodgers' pick in 2005, and they couldn't ink him, so it seems the problem is more him (or, more likely, his agent) than us.
First offical word on Jeff DaVanon is also in the same piece, where he's reported as about a week behind the other players. Said Melvin, "we'll play it by ear with him. He's going to want to play (exhibition) games right away, but we want to make sure he is cleared medically from our medical people." That's probably the best way to be cleared by our medical people: medically. I believe their tax preparation advice has been on shaky ground previously... Randy Johnson is due to report today, with a bullpen session vaguely pencilled in. And Tony Peña arrived safely too, having avoided immigration problems for the first time in spring training history. Of course, that was because he paid a coyote $500 for walking him through the Sonoran desert to Tucson. ;-)
Nick Piecoro also writes about the first day of spring: "Orlando Hudson, wearing a gray sweatshirt and a black beanie, arrived with his father and with his trademark exuberance. Pitcher Edgar Gonzalez strode into the clubhouse, his black hair long and wavy, a smile on his face. Starter Livan Hernandez stepped out of a limo-length Ford Excursion...wearing fashionable sunglasses and a diamond-studded watch." Hmm. One of those things is not like the others. Still, he could arrive on a pogo-stick for all I care, as long as he keeps his ERA below 4.00.
New poll up, which may require some explanation. Mrs. SnakePit waived her trip to the Renaissance Fair, and has agreed to go to the FanFest next week, where we will stock up on Sonoran Red merchandise for the new season. Actually, the main aim will be to pick up His 'n' Hers jerseys and get them personalized: mine with "AZ SNAKEPIT", hers with "MRS SNAKEPIT". But the question is, whose number do I get? I turn this question over to you, my loyal readers: contenders can be found in the poll, and I agree to abide by the choice. Well, with one exception. Mrs. SnakePit gets first choice of numbers, so if she picks the #1 vote-getter, I'll roll down to the #2. Hey, what loving husband could do less?
Ok, on with the last part of the community projections, which will be taking a look at our bullpen. Need to get that done, since we have plenty to do: two films to watch and review, plus a third to write-up, and guests coming for dinner. On the other hand, did get through five hours of 24 last night, so the decks are cleared there. However, I sense we're beginning to get the hang of the show: as soon as it was announced an engineer to program the terrorists' nuclear bombs had been found, Mrs. SnakePit predicted who it was. And lo, two hours later, it came to pass. Time for the writers to shock us like they used to...