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It looks like MLB will have a pitch clock in 2018

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Like it or not, it’s probably coming.

MESA, AZ - MARCH 07:  Fans sit underneath the pace of play clock in center field during the spring training game between the Chicago Cubs and the Kansas City Royals at Sloan Park on March 7, 2016 in Mesa, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Major League Baseball has been concerned with the pace of play for several seasons now. They’ve tried to speed games along by making hitters stay in the batter’s box, and that hasn’t worked — the average game time in 2017 increased to 3:05, four and a half minutes longer than 2016, and an all-time record.

Thus, writes Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk, owners are determined to institute a pitch clock for next season:

Today at the owners meetings down in Florida, MLB’s Chief Legal Officer, Dan Halem, told members of the press that the league would like to get a get a new pace-of-play agreement with MLBPA done that could include a pitch clock. In order to have something in place for the 2018 season, Halem said, an agreement would have to be reached by early January. Halem also added that other measures — such as reworked inning breaks with split screen broadcast, not unlike we saw during the postseason, could be a part of the pace-of-play measures as well.

I have to say, I wasn’t thrilled with those “split screen broadcast” commercials we saw during the World Series, even though most of them didn’t interfere with covering actual play. However, if that were the tradeoff for shorter inning breaks, maybe it would be worth doing.

Calcaterra writes that the MLB Players Association “signaled” to owners back in August that they would be willing to have a pitch clock, depending on how the details would work out.

There is, of course, already a rule on the books for Major League Baseball with a time limit for pitches, rule 8.04:

When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call "Ball."

The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.

The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.

This rule is, of course, never enforced. It does only come into play when the bases are empty. In 2017, 56.7 percent of all plate appearances happened with no one on base. This number is consistent with other recent seasons (2016: 56.8 percent, 2015: 57.1 percent), so we can probably safely assume the pitch clock would be used about that much of the time, a bit more than half of all plate appearances.

Here’s how it looked [VIDEO] when they did an experiment with it during a Yankees/Phillies spring-training game in 2015:

Honestly, if you were watching at-bat after at-bat with that on, you’d probably never notice — unless a pitcher got called for a violation, which happened to Mark Appel in an Arizona Fall League game in 2014 [VIDEO]:

Triple-A and Double-A leagues have been using a 20-second pitch clock since 2015, as follows — which also puts some responsibility on the hitter (the date noted was May 1, 2015):

Beginning May 1, should the pitcher fail to begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position in the last 20 seconds of the inning break, the batter will begin the at-bat with a 1-0 count.

Beginning May 1, should the batter fail to be in the batter's box and alert to the pitcher with five or more seconds remaining on the inning break timer, the batter will begin the at-bat with a 0-1 count.

These changes did have a significant effect on play in those leagues, as this Indianapolis Star article notes (the team they’re talking about is the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, not the Cleveland Indians):

Clocks were installed in all Triple-A and Double-A ballparks in 2015 as one of the measures to improve pace of play. These also included rules about hitters leaving the batter's box and timers for mound visits and between innings. Whether or not pitchers are paying attention to it, the clock has gotten results: This season, Indians games are lasting 2 hours and 51 minutes on average (which aligns closely with the rest of their league). The average International League game took 2:56 in 2014, according to milb.com.

That article also had some notes about how MLB pitchers were doing regarding pace of play in 2017 (up to the date of that article, July 4) — and it wasn’t good:

Of the 628 pitchers who have made appearances this year, just 30 are averaging under 20 seconds between pitches (that's a little over 5 percent). More than 200 take longer than 25 seconds on average. The worst offender? Tampa Bay Rays reliever Xavier Cedeño, who has averaged 36.4 seconds per pitch in 2⅓ innings in 2017. Needless to say, a 20-second pitch clock would seriously shake things up at the highest level.

The current rule says 12 seconds, but as you can see above, most MLB pitchers don’t even adhere to a 20-second pace between pitches. Having a clock counting to 20 seconds would probably shave several minutes off the total length of a game and make them feel as though they were going faster. As Calcaterra notes:

Based on my experience as a Triple-A fan and the experience of virtually everyone I’ve spoken to, its implementation has been smooth, to the point where it’s hardly noticeable. You can count on one hand the number of times a pitcher has been given an automatic ball for not throwing a pitch within the specified time in the course of a season and, overall, the pace of play seems to have picked up considerably. In any event, it’s far preferable to the seemingly interminable lulls in action between pitches that we saw this past October.

I like this idea. After a while, you probably wouldn’t even notice it was there. Pitchers (and hitters) might grumble about it for a short time, but in the end they’d find ways to adjust, just as they adjust to any change in the rules. It’s time to get this done, and I think we’re going to see it next spring.

Poll

A pitch clock for MLB...

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    Love it! Let’s pick up the pace!
    (341 votes)
  • 27%
    Hate it! Baseball isn’t timed!
    (155 votes)
  • 13%
    Don’t care either way
    (78 votes)
574 votes total Vote Now