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A pitch clock and other pace-of-play changes are going to be discussed this week

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Get ready for these; they’re almost certainly coming.

A pitch clock in Double-A in 2016. Ryan Court, the batter, was a minor-league signing by the Cubs this offseason
Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

I’ve written on this topic before and the reason you’re seeing it here again is that there’s going to be a meeting between MLB players and owners this week on the topic, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN:

Officials from Major League Baseball and the Players Association expect to meet next week in New York to discuss new pace-of-play initiatives that would go into effect during the 2018 season, a source said Thursday.

Commissioner Rob Manfred made improved pace of play a priority even before the average game time increased to an average of 3 hours, 5 minutes in 2017.

The major changes under consideration are a pitch clock and a limitation on catcher mound visits.

A pitch clock has been in effect since 2015 in Double-A and Triple-A. According to this article written late in 2017, those clocks have had mixed results. There were decreases in some average game times, but some players claimed most pitchers were working within the 20-second limit anyway. From Crasnick’s article:

The clock currently being proposed by the commissioner’s office would allow for 20 seconds between offerings for big leaguers -- or two seconds fewer than the average of 22 seconds between pitches in 2017.

As we know, there are some pitchers who take much, much longer than that. Pedro Baez of the Dodgers is one of the worst offenders, often taking 30 seconds or longer between pitches, according to this USA Today article.

What’s most important, in my view, is this: If MLB does in fact do this — and it was noted in Crasnick’s article that Manfred can unilaterally do this regardless of what players think, as he did last year with the intentional walk rule — it has to be enforced. If a pitcher takes longer than 20 seconds, well then, it’s ball one (or two or three or four, you get the idea). If a hitter dawdles more than 20 seconds out of the box, call a strike on him. This rule has been on the books for decades, but it’s never enforced. Whether this is because umpires don’t want to do it or don’t think they have enough authority to do it shouldn’t be relevant. Give them the authority and let them enforce penalties.

As Josh has written on a number of occasions here, you’ll probably almost never notice the clock. By rule, it should only be in play when no one is on base, which amounts to about 58 percent of all plate appearances.

Another potential change could be limiting catcher mound visits:

While that would shorten the game, it’s unclear whether the Players Association would be on board with it. That proposal hasn’t been officially discussed until now, and baseball doesn’t always do a great job handling change.

What kind of limit could be enforced here? Once per batter? Twice per inning? Much as I like Willson Contreras’ abilities behind the plate, he is one of the worst offenders here, often going out for conversation with his pitcher more than once during an at-bat.

As noted above, the length of the average game jumped to 3:05 in 2017, after having dropped by six minutes in 2015 when the inning-break clock was instituted and batters had to stay in the box (that one wound up rarely enforced, too). Here’s Eric Wood of the Double-A Altoona Curve being called out on strikes on a batters-box delay of game violation in 2016:

That happened in this game; check out the play-by-play of the top of the first inning (“Eric Wood strikes out on an automatic strike”).

It’s not really the overall length of games that’s concerning. Longer games can be caused by many factors, including increased offense, which we saw in 2017. It’s the pace of play. A 3:05 game where the score is 11-9 can be quite exciting. It’s games like this one — a 6-1, nine-inning Cubs win that ran 3:46 where the Cubs didn’t bat in the last of the ninth — that baseball would like to see go a bit faster.

It’s gonna happen, as they say. If it works the way it’s supposed to, you’ll barely notice.

Poll

A pitch clock in baseball...

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Love it! Pick up the pace!
    (136 votes)
  • 32%
    Hate it! Baseball isn’t timed!
    (96 votes)
  • 22%
    Don’t care either way
    (66 votes)
298 votes total Vote Now