Back in February 2017 I did a deep dive on Length and Pace of Games. (yes, I’m linking that again, humor me). After doing that research, it was obvious to me what the issues were and what the fixes were. Reducing the time between pitches and reducing the number of pitches thrown were the two most important things that needed to happen to get game pace back in line. I also believed, although couldn’t prove it at the time that a benefit of improved pace would be more contact, and fewer strikeouts and walks. In other words a more interesting game to watch.
I don’t know why MLB failed to keep things in line way back when players like Mike Hargrove, and later Nomar Garciaparra, and Steve Trachsel began to slow the game down to snails pace, flaunting the rules already on the books regarding time and pace of play. But once MLB failed to do that it became the norm, and impossible for umpires to enforce.
Baseball has been experimenting for years in the minors and the Arizona Fall League with mixed results. It seems that time of game drops dramatically at first, but over time other changes going on within the game tend to overcome those gains. Last year the Low A West league used a pitch clock, with 15 seconds to deliver a pitch, 17 seconds with a man on base. Jayson Stark reported on the numbers , and it was clear that not only was game time reduced about 21 minutes, but there were also significant reductions in walks and K’s, without altering the run scoring very much. (It actually went up)
So here we are. New rules and a pitch clock have been instituted throughout minor league baseball starting the 2nd week of the season.
The rule states the pitcher has 14 seconds to deliver the pitch, 18 seconds with a man on base. The batter must keep at least one foot in the batter’s boxbe be ready to hit with 9 second left on the clock. Pitchers are assessed a ball and batters are assessed a strike if they fail to comply.
The early returns, as reported by Baseball America are very encouraging. Compared to the first week of play without the clock, here are some highlights
- Time of game reduced 20 minutes. (I expect that number to shrink somewhat over the course of the season however)
- The average time to deliver a pitch has been reduced by over 4 seconds.
- Pitches per team have reduced from 153 to 145
- The Range of length of a typical game has gone from 2:45-3:15 to 2:15-2:45
- Runs reduced from 5.1 to 4.7 (Note: Jayson Stark reported the R/G has not changed)
- Walks per game reduced from 4.4 to 4.0
- K rates per game reduced from 10.4 to 9.6
- Number of PA per team reduced from 38.5 to 37
- There has been an average of 1.2 infractions called per game. I expect that number to drop.
From the BA article this key quote:
“The biggest difference is that before the rules were enforced, there was an average of 36.5 seconds between pitches, now it’s 32 seconds. That calculation includes all the other dead time in the game (between-innings switchovers, stoppages for arguments, pitching changes, etc.) all of which is operating the same as it was before the new rules were implemented. So the actual change in per-pitch pace is even larger than that.
There is no bigger way to impact pace of play than to impact the time between pitches, because there are so many pitches per game. This year, minor league games have averaged 290 pitches per game. Last year, that number was 295.”
The BA article goes on to mention some of the concerns, such as umpire game management adjustments, difficulty for pitchers when they can’t get on same page with catcher, and rehabbing pitchers from the majors not yet used to the new rules. But these all seem like adjustment period issues. From personal experience watching games in the Arizona Fall League, players struggle a bit early on but adjust very quickly.
Players will always find ways to game the system, and that has something to do why early gains will tend to erode somewhat over time. But at the very least, this will keep games from getting even slower paced and longer than they are now.
The pitch clock will certainly be in place for 2023 season in MLB. The only questions remaining is if they will go with the 14/18 second model, or if there will be an adjustment to that. There are 4 active players on the new competition committee. So ready or not, here it comes.
For me, this is a welcome development. I believe this will help MLB to stem the tide of three true outcomes baseball, even if just a little, and improve overall pace of play. Who knows, baseball might even more closely resemble the way the game looked back in my day.