Pitch clocks were tried in a few Arizona Fall League games. They appeared fairly well-received and they did, in fact, seem to make a difference in the games in which they were tried:
The pitch clock was one of a handful of innovations tested out in three Arizona Fall League games, all designed to reduce the length of games, and together they appeared to work. Games average 2:51 in the AFL; the three experimental games lasted 2:14, 2:28, and an 11-inning affair that went 3:12. (Games in MLB now average over three hours, up 20 minutes from 11 years ago.) And what's most interesting is that there were just four violations over the three games. It's clear that the pitch clock is more effective as a tool to remind pitchers how long they're taking than as a strict deterrent.
MLB's owners, having meetings in the Phoenix area this week, are now said to be likely to approve pitch clocks in some minor-league games for this year:
A 20-second pitch clock will be implemented at Double-A and Triple-A, but not in the majors in 2015, sources said. Owners could vote to approve a particular course of action at their meetings in Phoenix on Thursday, but no changes will be official until the union approves. The exact proposals for the majors are not known, but baseball has discussed forcing managers to make replay challenges more quickly. In the minors, baseball will enact other changes that it tried during the recent Arizona Fall League season, one source said. Those changes include a rule requiring a hitter to keep one foot in the batter's box, a time limit on pitching changes and also a limit on breaks between innings.
Forcing managers to make challenges more quickly would eliminate the "manager moonwalk," something Rick Renteria did quite often in 2014. He was the manager who challenged most often last year. (Joe Maddon was second, so don't expect the Cubs' challenges to decline much in 2015.)
Here's some more information that came out after Thursday's owner's meetings:
Exact limits not yet finalized, but will be based on regulations used in 2014 Arizona Fall League, which had a 20-second pitch clock.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 15, 2015
Three timers in each park: Two offset behind home plate but beween dugouts and one in outfield beyond fence or near scoreboard.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 15, 2015
Each AA-AAA club will be responsible for hiring and paying a timer operator. All necessary equipment will be bought by MLB Advanced Media.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 15, 2015
I'm all for these changes. It will be very interesting to see whether pitch clocks at the highest two minor-league levels actually do speed up the average game length. If they do, I would not be surprised to see them in the major leagues in 2017. Why not 2016? Because as the Deadspin article linked above (first link) says, the MLBPA would have to approve them and that makes it more likely that such a change would be part of the next MLB/MLBPA negotiations, which will take place following (or maybe during) the 2016 season. That would also give everyone involved two years, instead of one, to get used to the possibility of a pitch clock at MLB stadiums.
The Deadspin article also contains this video, which I share here. The announcers explain how it works:
As you know, I'm all in favor of improving the pace of games. This isn't to say that some games can't go over three hours, or three and a half, if there's a lot of action and scoring. It's the interminable 3-2 games that take that long that MLB is trying to address.