Mound visits have long been a part of the game. They happen for a variety of reasons, but with one constant: whether it’s the catcher or the pitching coach who jogs to the hill, the ensuing confab delays the action. And while the delay is typically short of duration — the home plate umpire does his best to ensure that — the idiom “straw that broke the camel’s back” exists for a reason. In the opinion of more and more people, enough is enough when it comes to repeated trips to the mound.
Pace of play is an increasingly important issue for MLB, and some — commissioner Rob Manfred among them — have suggested limiting, if not entirely eliminating, mound visits. Fans would certainly be on board with such a change, but what about the people who be directly affected?
With the help of colleague Eno Sarris, I asked a cross section of players — mostly pitchers and catchers — the following question: “Just how important are mound visits, and how much would limiting, or even doing away with them, impact the game?”
Larry Andersen, Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster: “I don’t know if you can get rid of them. If you have a starting staff like the Phillies had five years ago, with Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and the like, then you don’t need the mound visits. Those guys were experienced veterans who knew how to slow the game down and make adjustments on the fly. But if you have a staff like we do now — a lot of these guys are young and don’t know how to slow things down. They need to be led a little bit. They need to be helped out. They need to be given a break.
“It’s hard to say that mound visits shouldn’t be allowed, but there are also times where… we had one recently where a pitching coach went out to the mound with two outs in the ninth inning when we brought up a pinch-hitter. It was a four-run game, and there was no one on. I mean, is that really necessary? There are coaches going out simply to give relievers more time. I don’t know where you draw the line, but I’d certainly like to see a line drawn.”
Craig Breslow, Minnesota Twins pitcher: “Rather than questioning how vital they are, or what the impact on the game would be, I would ask, ‘What would be the impact on pace of play, and overall time of game, by limiting mound visits?’ I think you would find it’s largely inconsequential. Maybe we’d shave off a minute and a half, and I would be hard-pressed to find an argument that shaving a minute and a half would be the difference between someone tuning in until the end or switching the channel.
“Another way to look at it is this: if there’s no mound visit, maybe you get two more walks and a pitching change. Are we better off with that? I’ve long argued that this whole pace-of-play fiasco is just chasing our tails. Nobody can prove how much we need to shorten a game, or how much we need to increase the pace by, in order for there to be a meaningful difference. We’re just kind of throwing darts in the dark, hoping that where we land is better than where we are. Until we know what the solution looks like, I’m not sure we can know we’re getting closer to it.”
Jason Castro, Minnesota Twins catcher: “They can play a pretty big role, depending on who is out on the mound and what’s going on. I think some pitchers benefit from them quite a bit, just to give them a little break in the action. Some guys need that change of pace.
“I think there are maybe ways to go about limiting them, but from a pure catcher mound visit… they can play such a significant role that I don’t think it’s something that should be taken away. I do think there needs to be some more discussion as to what the impact would be. Maybe you could alter mound visits from other players? There are different ways to go about if it you’re trying to shave some seconds here and there, but catcher visits are pretty important.”
Buck Farmer, Detroit Tigers pitcher: “I like them to an extent. It’s a chance for us to kind of step back and take a moment, take a break. I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan of them, but I see the necessity of it. I wouldn’t like it if they were done away with. That would be messing with the game. Limited? Yeah, maybe. The catcher only being allowed to come out so many times… I mean, the coaches are already limited.”
Pedro Grifol, Kansas City Royals coach and catching instructor: “I don’t think it would impact the game too much if you’re still allowed to go out — maybe not at will, but at whatever number they put out. But there are times where it’s really necessary. Not allowing mound visits at all would really affect the game.
“Sometimes you just need a time out. Other sports have them. They’re limited in other sports, but sometimes you need a time out to step back. You take 45 seconds to gather yourself and get refocused. So I think it would depend on how much mound visits were limited. If it were four or five per game, that would probably be OK.”
Jeremy Hellickson, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher: “Some mound visits are very important. If it’s a long inning and you’re struggling a little bit, your pitching coach will come out and give you a little vote of confidence. He’ll calm you down and give you a little breather. He may also see something that might help you get out of the inning.
“I’m definitely for limiting them, but I wouldn’t mess with it too much. I don’t think they slow the game down so much that you need to worry about it. It’s what, 25 or 30 seconds?
“I guess some of them… when it’s because you have a guy getting ready — I’m not too fond of those. Maybe ones like that could be avoided, but again, we’re talking 30 seconds. I don’t know that it’s too big a deal.”
Brandon Kintzler, Minnesota Twins pitcher: “Sometimes mound visits are badly timed, to be honest with you. It’s a matter of managing your mound visits. Sometimes they kill the the rhythm of the pitcher, and sometimes they help the pitcher out.
“Teams that keep sending the catcher out all the time is what slows the game down. It’s not the visits from the pitching coach. Not being able to get the signs right slows the game down a little bit, but that said, all outs in a game are important. We’re all trying to get to the playoffs, so each out counts. You want to make sure no one is messed up. When you’re trying to speed it up, you’re taking the human factor out of it. We need to make sure we get things right.
“If a guy is struggling… the game speeds up out there. Fans don’t understand that, and analysts don’t understand that. When you’re in front of 40,000 people on the road, the game is really fast. Sometimes you need that mound visit to slow it down.”
Rick Kranitz, Philadelphia Phillies assistant pitching coach: “With veteran pitchers, I don’t think it’s as necessary, but with young pitchers you can see the game start to speed up on them. You have to go out there and remind both the pitcher and the catcher to get back to what you’re doing, get back to your strengths, whatever it may be. A lot of times, it’s just to kind of get them back in the moment, back into pounding the ball down in the zone or hitting the glove. A lot of times, they lose their focus and concentration.
“What you hope to achieve as a pitching coach is to have your pitchers become their own pitching coaches. They need to be able to do that. There are very few mound visits in spring training. It’s more, ‘Let’s see what these guys can do.’ They have to work out of it. But winning and losing… especially for strategy purposes. If you’re running out there to say, ‘We need to do this to this guy’ — maybe he’s the guy you don’t want to let beat you. There are different parts of the game other than just getting a pitcher settled down.”
Mark Langston, Los Angeles Angels broadcaster: “I think it should be addressed. I think there are way too many mound visits. Some are probably needed, but for the most part… our guy here [Martin Maldonado] is notorious. He’ll go out three times during one at-bat. To me, that’s… when I was pitching, I’d have had a hard time with that. I hated my catcher coming out. I wanted to get it and go, get it and go. I wanted to keep my tempo going.
“There have been moments this year when [Maldonado] gone to the mound and I’ve seen huge changes. We have Alex Meyer, a younger guy trying to find his way, and he’s been able to go out and calm him down, and get him back in the zone. So it’s not like they should be eliminated completely, but I think something definitely needs to happen, where they get only so many visits.
“Again, I hated it. Bob Kearney was my catcher in Seattle, and he’d come out, and I’d be [holding my arms out to stop him]. He’d throw me the ball and I’d turn around and walk away. I wouldn’t talk to him. I hated mound visits.”
Sandy Leon, Boston Red Sox catcher: “You have to be able to communicate with your pitchers. I don’t think that’s a problem. Pitchers and catchers have got to be able to communicate the whole game. I don’t care how many times you have to go out there. Would there be [a negative impact if mound visits were limited]? I don’t know. I mean… the only thing I can say is that both sides need to be able to communicate.”
Jack Morris, Minnesota Twins broadcaster: “I don’t think it would make much of a difference. The problem is 13 pitchers in a game. It’s the way the bullpen is used today that takes time. Plus, the hitters have to adjust their gloves — that takes time. I know they have the clock, but they’re not really enforcing it.
“I never had a mound visit that did a damn bit of good. But they thought it did, so you’re supposed to stand there and listen to what they’re saying. Pitchers know. I used to tell [pitching coach] Roger Craig, ‘Roger, you come out here, and you wonder why I don’t pay attention to you. I know I stink. That’s the only reason you’re coming out, because I stink. When was the last time you came out and told me I was doing good?’
“Another time, I told Roger that there was no reason to say anything when he came out, because I already knew. So the next time he came out, he just stood there. And I stood there, looking up in the air. Lance Parrish comes out and looks at us, then Roger walks back to the dugout. Never said a word. Next pitch I threw, I got a double play to end the inning.”
Brandon Moss, Kansas City Royals IF/OF: “I don’t find any benefits to any of the speeding-up-the-game stuff. I never listen when I’m there, anyway. Usually the pitching coach comes out to give the pitcher a minute. ‘Hey, the game is speeding up on you a little bit, everything is compounding a bit.’ [He’s] looking at the situation instead of thinking of how to get out of it, and the coach comes out and says, ‘Hey, these runners haven’t scored yet, make your pitches and you’ll get out of it.’
“I think that’s good. Sometimes you just need a minute. Step out, remember what you’re trying to do, and get back in the box. I think that’s baseball. All this crap is just noise to me. I don’t know what an extra 5, 10 minutes is worth.”
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants catcher: “I don’t think the game could do away with them. That’s unrealistic. You could maybe limit them. Sometimes it’s about changing signs with a runner on second or figuring out what signs to use. You can’t get rid of that. Part of the game. There’s definitely value in it. I can see where it gets abused at times, as well, where you’re like, that’s enough. But it’s part of the strategy of the game. There’s a right time to go out there.”
Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels pitcher: “The pitcher-catcher mound visit isn’t something you can regulate. There are times where the catcher puts down fastball three times and — excuse my language — you’re thinking in your head, ‘F-off, I’m not throwing a fastball.’ He’s thinking, in his head, ‘you’re wrong.’ So he comes out to the mound and you yell at each other for a little bit, and come to an agreement.
“That meeting has to take place before the pitch is thrown. Absent that meeting, if the hitter ends up getting a hit, you’re going to have a pitcher and a catcher fighting each other. As a baseball player, as a manager, I’d rather have them fighting each other on the mound, before the pitch is thrown, because then they have to come to an agreement, and they’re both accountable.
“As far as the mound visits from the coaches and managers… I don’t have a problem with there being one mound visit, per player — maybe two mound visits per starter and one mound visit per reliever. You have to have mound visits. I mean, there’s too much in the game to talk about that you can’t just transfer through signs.”
Jordan Zimmermann, Detroit Tigers pitcher: “I think it would impact a lot. You have to change signs multiple times during a game, and if you and the catcher aren’t on the same page, you need to talk things over. Otherwise, he’s going to get crossed up. Somebody is going to end up getting hurt.
“If you have a new hitter coming into the ballgame, [the catcher] might come out and you’ll kind of go over that guy quick, and see what to throw him. If you’re unable to do that… you obviously still have an idea of how to pitch to guys, but you want to make sure you’re on the same page. It’s more or less about being on the same page. I don’t think it would be a good idea to ever eliminate them or anything like that.”
Thanks to Eno Sarris for procuring the quotes from Brandon Moss and Buster Posey.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.