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An update on MLB’s pitch clock proposal for 2018

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One way or another, looks like this is going to happen.

Jul 7, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Detailed view of the electronic pitch/pace of play clock during the Chicago Cubs game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Just last week I wrote about MLB’s proposal for a pitch clock in games beginning with the 2018 season.

I’m writing about this again now because it looks like this is essentially a done deal, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com:

After informal conversations between MLB and the players' union in August, some players walked away from those meetings resigned to the idea that, one way or another, a pitch clock would be put in place for 2018. They wondered, however, if the time between pitches might be negotiated to 22 seconds or 24 seconds.

MLB, however, wants the 20-second pitch clock. And whether the union agrees or not, MLB has the power to implement this and other rules for the 2018 season.

That being said, baseball officials would prefer to successfully negotiate the terms of change with the players this winter. This way, both sides will be committed moving forward.

So MLB and the players association will talk and hopefully come to an agreement; as you can see, players would be interested in having a somewhat longer clock to keep track of the time between pitches. The reason for this, according to Olney’s article:

According to data published by Fangraphs, no starting pitcher who qualified for the ERA title averaged under 20 seconds between pitches in 2017; the average was about 23.5 seconds. Pedro Baez of the Dodgers was the slowest-working reliever at 31.1 seconds between pitches.

The Pedro Baez number should surprise no one. When this is implemented — and I say “when” rather than “if” because I am almost certain it will happen — pitches will have to adjust. So will hitters, writes Olney:

Some club officials, though, noted that some hitters may be more affected by the pitch clock than pitchers because of the habits they developed between pitches, such as stepping out of the box, adjusting their batting gloves and taking extra practice swings.

You’ve seen that, I’m sure, and you’ve seen it often. Between pitchers taking more time between pitches and the incessant messing around with batting gloves, those are, I believe, the biggest things slowing down the pace of modern baseball. You simply didn’t see those things years ago. Obviously the use of batting gloves is a fairly recent thing, but years ago you didn’t see batters stepping out of the box and taking practice swings all the time as you do now. For a good example, watch this video of the first inning of the Cubs’ division clincher in Montreal from September 26, 1989:

The batters do take a step or two out of the box after each pitch, but then step right back in. They’re wearing batting gloves, but don’t mess with them after every pitch. The pitcher gets the ball back and is ready to go — I timed some of the intervals between pitches at 12 seconds, some a bit more, but in all the game was paced much faster back then than the times indicated in Olney’s article.

Remember that the clock would only be in play, based on the current rule, when no one is on base. Bases-empty at-bats occur about 57-58 percent of the time.

We’re probably not going back to the way things were in 1989. But the game can certainly be faster-paced than it was in 2017. I’m 100 percent in favor of a pitch clock. No doubt, both pitchers and hitters will have to make adjustments. Since the pitch clock has been used in Double-A and Triple-A for the last three seasons, over time, players used to this will come to the big leagues and eventually, this will all be second nature.

It’s time, though, to do something about the pace of play, and I’m glad MLB will be making this change.