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The pitch clock will speed up games in 2023, but the average MLB game time already went down in 2022

We are trending in the right direction.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the rule changes, the one I most look forward to is the pitch clock. MLB games have been getting longer and longer over the last couple of decades, and the clock is intended to pick up the pace.

Per the Associated Press, it made a significant difference in the minor leagues in 2022:

Average time of nine-inning minor league games dropped to 2:38 this season from 3:03 in 2021.

Games, on average, 25 minutes shorter? Sign me up. The AP says the average game time did drop in 2022:

The average this season was 3 hours, 3 minutes, 44 seconds, the commissioner’s office said Monday. The figure declined from a record 3:10:07 last year and was the lowest since 3:00:44 in 2018.

One of the biggest reasons for that, says the AP, was the introduction of the PitchCom system:

PitchCom allows catchers to input signs to a wristband device and pitchers to listen to audio tucked inside their cap. It has helped cut down the number of times pitchers stepped off the rubber to go over hand signals from catchers.

This chart shows how the length of major league games stayed fairly steady from the 1950s through the 1970s, then started galloping away:

Speeding up the average game by 25 minutes would put it back to where it was in the mid- to late-1980s, which would be just fine with me.

Before anyone interjects, “But the TV commercials!”, it’s not the TV commercials. Take a look at this video — it’s the last two-plus innings of Jim Maloney’s no-hitter against the Cubs in August 1965, the full on-air video including commercials:

If you clock the time between the last out of an inning and the first pitch of the next inning in that video, it’s just about two minutes — the same as it is today. The difference: TV channels like WGN in those days didn’t run two minutes worth of commercials during the inning break. There was about a minute’s worth of ad time, then the channel came back to the live feed from the ballpark, and you’d see players warming up.

If you have not read Grant Brisbee’s outstanding 2017 article “Why baseball games are so damned long,” it’s worth your time. But the tl;dr is basically, as Grant writes:

... the players were mostly hanging around on the field, not playing baseball

And that’s what the pitch clock is intended to fix. Pitchers and hitters will simply have to be ready to play baseball faster. Per the AP article:

The clock will be set at 15 seconds with no runners on base and 20 seconds with runners — up from the 14/19 tested at Triple-A this season and 14/18 at lower minor league levels.

That should be enough time for most pitchers. The example I like to give is Marcus Stroman, who gave me the impression of a slow worker when he first became a Cub, so I looked at his 2022 starts. Stroman made 12 starts this year in which he went at least six innings, and threw between 81 and 96 pitches in all of those starts. Eight of those starts were made before September 9, the date the pitch clock and other rule changes were announced. I chose six innings as the cutoff, rather than pitches thrown, to account for additional inning breaks.

Average time of a six-plus inning Stroman start pre-September 9: 2:53
Average time of a six-plus inning Stroman start post-September 9: 2:31

(NOTE: Two of the 12 Stroman starts noted here went into extra innings. To account for that I used only the amount of time from first pitch to the end of the ninth inning in those games. I got those times by watching the games on the MLB.TV archive and using the time stamps there.)

Yes, these are small sample sizes, granted and stipulated. But to me, it does appear that Stroman might have picked up his pace after the pitch clock rule was announced. It wasn’t just Stroman, either; the Cubs in general played faster games after September 9. The Cubs played 15 nine-inning games in 2:40 or less in 2022. Six of those were after September 9; put another way, six of the Cubs’ 24 games after September 9 ran 2:40 or shorter.

This is the sort of thing we’ll see frequently in 2023. If the pitch clock can do the same thing in MLB that it did in MiLB, the classic Wrigley Field day game that starts at 1:20 p.m. will be finished before 4 p.m., on average.

Sign me up.