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MLB’s pitch clock proposal is going to be implemented, and that’s a good thing

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Here’s how this and other pace-of-play rules would affect the way the game is played.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

News item: Major League Baseball owners are going to institute a pitch clock and other things they think will improve the pace of play this year, even if the players don’t agree to these changes.

According to that linked article by Tom Verducci, if the players don’t sign off on the pace-of-play modifications by the time of the next owners meeting in Los Angeles on January 30, the owners are going to put them in place unilaterally, as they are permitted to do under the current CBA after a year of negotiating (which is why these proposals were first made last year).

Before I get into some discussion of what this all means, here are the details of the changes:

• A 20-second pitch clock with the bases empty, similar to what has been used for three years in some minor leagues. First violations by a pitcher or batter would receive a warning. Subsequent violations would result in a ball charged to the count upon a violation by the pitcher or a strike charged upon a violation by the batter.

• A limit of six mound visits per game by players.

• A trigger mechanism for further change in 2019. If the average time of game remained at three hours or more in 2018—it was a record-long 3:05.11 last season—the pitch clock would be used for all pitches, including with runners on, in 2019.

I’ve written about the 20-second clock here before, most recently about two weeks ago. It’s something that’s been in place in the minor leagues (Double-A and Triple-A) for the last three seasons; I personally haven’t been at a game at those levels in that time frame, but people who have say the clock is never even noticed. This would simply be a mechanism to enforce a rule that’s been on the books for decades. According to Verducci, “about two-thirds” of current big-league pitchers have pitched in the minor leagues during the time this clock has been in place, so theoretically at least those pitchers should be used to it.

Here are more details on the above from Yahoo’s Jeff Passan:

MLB intends to use a 20-second pitch clock with the bases empty and runners on, according to the memo. In the proposed agreement, the pitch clock would have been 18 seconds with the bases empty and would have been shut off with runners on. The clock will start when a pitcher has the ball on the mound and stop when the pitcher begins his windup or comes set. If the pitcher steps off the rubber, the clock resets. Batters must be in the box five seconds after the clock starts.

Should a pitcher run afoul of the rule, he will receive one warning per game. The next violation would result in an automatic ball. The penalty will begin on opening day, as opposed to the rejected proposal, which would’ve delayed the implementation until May 1.

The restrictions on mound visits are particularly acute. Any time a coach, manager or player visits a pitcher on the mound, or a pitcher leaves the mound to confer with a player, it counts as a visit. Upon the second visit to the pitcher in the same inning, he must exit the game. Under the proposal, each team would have received six so-called “no-change” visits that would have prevented the pitcher from leaving the game.

In addition, there will be a 30-second between-batters timer implemented starting opening day. Each hitter will receive one warning per game. Part of the rejected proposal includes expanding that timer to 35 seconds.

The mound visit proposal is probably the biggest and most important of these changes. I’ve noticed over the last few years that players, catchers in particular, seem to be making more mound visits. I love Willson Contreras, but he’s one of the biggest offenders, often making multiple visits to the mound during a single at-bat. The penalty is pretty harsh. Right now a pitcher must be replaced only if there’s a coach or manager visit; usually, you see a pitching coach come out the first time to talk to a pitcher (or stall so a reliever can warm up), then when the manager comes to the mound, it’s time to go. It appears from this proposal that a visit from any player would count the way a coaching visit does now.

The 30-second clock actually ran during the 2017 season, though you likely didn’t notice it. It was set up for the replay review system; managers were given that much time to decide whether to ask for a review. Now, that clock will also serve to keep batters in the box. I think that’s one of the biggest issues with pace-of-play — hitters constantly stepping out to take practice swings or mess with their batting gloves.

I’ve been a big proponent of pace-of-play changes. As I’ve said before, it’s not the length of the game itself that’s the issue, it’s the pace. You can have an exciting game that never bores that runs three and a half hours if there’s a lot of action. I present as evidence this 14-12 Cubs win over the Braves last September, which featured 26 runs, 29 hits and six home runs. It ran 3:49 but was never dull. Conversely, this 5-3 Cubs loss to the Rockies last June that ran almost as long (3:42) was dreadful (and not just because the Cubs lost) — 11 pitchers combined for 12 walks, three hit batters and two wild pitches.

MLB owners think this will shave 10 minutes off the average game time, which had edged downward after the inning clock was instituted three years ago, but turned upward again in 2017 to 3:05. That’s a good thing. Here’s another good idea, from Passan’s article:

Should the union officially reject the plan, MLB intends in 2019 to make inning breaks 2 minutes, 20 seconds for local games and 2:40 for national games, according to the memo, and to institute a six-pitch maximum for warm-ups that must be finished with 35 seconds left on the between-innings clock. The amount of commercial time the league sells would remain 90 seconds, according to a source, giving players ample time to prepare for the next half-inning.

People often complain that it’s the commercial time that’s lengthening games compared to how they were decades ago, but that simply isn’t true. There are a fair number of games available online that are complete telecasts from the 1960s and 1970s, including commercials, as originally broadcast. I have watched a number of these games, and took a stopwatch to the time from the last out of an inning to the first pitch of the next. In every case it was about two minutes. Yes, there are more commercials now — but in those long-ago games, TV channels ran about a minute’s worth of commercials, then came back to the live feed from the ballpark, where the announcers filled time until the game resumed.

So it’s not the commercials. It’s partly the issues being addressed here, pitchers and hitters simply stalling, and these changes will help. One thing that’s far different, though, in games now compared to 40 or 50 years ago, is the number of pitches thrown. We don’t have much in the way of reliable pitch counts from that era, but what we do have are walk and strikeout counts, both of which are up significantly as hitters get more selective. Also — and I admit this is anecdotal — it seems to me that there are a lot more foul balls now than there used to be, as hitters have gotten better at fouling off pitches they don’t like, waiting for the one they do. This is something that isn’t going to change.

But all in all, I believe these proposals are going to make the game better. Faster-paced games are definitely more engaging and more fun to watch. I’m not sure why players have apparently rejected these proposals; all that’s going to do is have the owners unilaterally install these rule changes. That’s not going to help the current atmosphere between MLB and the MLBPA.

It will, I hope, run smoothly and not cause too much contentiousness during ballgames. If it’s implemented as noted above, you’ll probably see these changes take effect as soon as next month, when spring-training games begin.

Poll

The MLB pace-of-play changes...

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Love them! The pace needs to be picked up.
    (182 votes)
  • 27%
    Hate them! Don’t mess with the game!
    (92 votes)
  • 19%
    Don’t care either way
    (65 votes)
339 votes total Vote Now