Commissioner Rob Manfred has been hinting that pitch clocks are going to be used in spring training games, as a possible prelude to be in regular-season games this year. I asked him about this at his Tuesday news conference, and as usual, he was noncommittal about whether MLB would unilaterally institute them (as is their contractual right, he emphasized) if players and management can’t reach a deal.
Now, we have some details as to how those clocks are going to work in practice:
The use of a 20-second pitch clock for spring training games is going to be announced today, league sources tell ESPN, and the rule will include ball-or-strike penalties for violations after an easing-in period early in the spring.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 22, 2019
Some important details:— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 22, 2019
- Clock is not used on the first pitch of PA
- Pitcher needs to begin his motion -- not release the pitch -- before the clock expires
- Batter must be in the box with five seconds left on the timer
- Clock starts when pitcher gets ball from catcher
You might wonder why the clock would not be used on the first pitch of a plate appearance. The likely answer is that the pitcher probably has the ball before the hitter has even stepped in; the point is to speed along each plate appearance. I would assume this is accounted for by “Batter must be in the box with five seconds left on the timer,” because there is a 30-second timer between at-bats that MLB started using last year. It begins when the previous play ends.
Here’s how MLB intends to ease this in, per a press release:
In the first Spring Training games, the 20-second timer will operate without enforcement so as to make players and umpires familiar with the new system.
Early next week, umpires will issue reminders to pitchers and hitters who violate the rule, but no ball-strike penalties will be assessed. Between innings, umpires are expected to inform the club’s field staff (manager, pitching coach or hitting coach) of any violations.
Later in Spring Training, and depending on the status of the negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players Association, umpires will be instructed to begin assessing ball-strike penalties for violations.
Like the rule in Minor League Baseball, the rule requires: (i) the batter to be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with at least five seconds remaining on the timer; and (ii) the pitcher to begin his windup or motion to come to a set position before the 20-second timer expires (the pitch itself does not need to be thrown before the expiration of the timer). The timer will never be used on the first pitch of any at-bat and will begin running prior to the second pitch when the pitcher receives the ball from the catcher.
MLB has sent a three-page FAQ out to teams and umpires that deal with various situations involving the clock. Click here to read it (.pdf).