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The pitch clock is being enforced in the minor leagues — and it’s working

Games are already moving much, much faster. This is a good thing.

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Josh wrote about the first-time enforcement of pitch clocks in the Minor League Wrap for Friday’s games, about the clock in the South Bend/Ft. Wayne contest:

This was the first game in the Midwest League where they enforced the pitch clock. Players just got warnings before [Friday]. The time of the full nine-inning game was one hour and fifty-nine minutes. The game was sped up by the strong starting pitching and there were no mid-inning pitching changes, but that’s a fast game even for that.

The Cubs were awarded one automatic ball and were penalized one automatic strike in this game.

1:59. Wow. The last time the MLB Cubs played a game that short was in 2010 and that was a Spring Training affair. The Cubs last played a sub-two-hour game in September 2009 and there hasn’t been one at Wrigley Field since June 2002.

As you can see by Josh’s wrap of the South Bend/Ft. Wayne game Friday, players were keeping to the clock — only two of the 134 South Bend pitches and 125 Ft. Wayne pitches ran past the clock limit. The total of 259 pitches in the game is very close to the long-term MLB average of about 256 per game.

Those two teams played nearly as quickly on Saturday:

Baseball America’s JJ Cooper wrote this detailed wrapup of Friday’s minor league action across all levels and noted that game times dropped “dramatically”:

[Friday] night across the minors, the average game time for a nine-inning game was 2:38 and the median game time was 2:34. For the previous week of games, the average game time for a nine-inning game was 3:04 and the median game time was 2:59.

That 3:04 average game time was right in line with last year’s pace. In 2021, Triple-A nine-inning games took 3:04 on average. Double-A games took 2:57. High-A took 3:04 and Low-A took 3:00.

Data on MiLB average time of game goes back to 2005. Last night’s average of 2:38 across the full minors is faster than the average nine-inning game time for any level in any year since measurements began. At the major league level, the last time the average nine-inning game was less than 2:38 was 1985.

In other words, last night the new rules appeared to turn back the clock on decades of expansion in the length of games.

That’s exactly what MLB hopes will happen when the pitch clock is (presumably) instituted for major league games in 2023.

There might be some who say “but this is less baseball!” (NARRATOR: “It’s not less baseball. It’s the same amount of baseball, only longer.”) Cooper’s got the proper response to that:

... for traditionalists who may be concerned that the changes will lead to less baseball, this cutting of game time seems to have largely been created by eliminating dead time.

That’s exactly what Grant Brisbee found in his excellent 2017 article comparing a game from 1984 to one from 2014. The two games had identical scores and about the same number of batters and pitches thrown. The article’s long and you should read all of it if you haven’t previously, but here is Grant’s conclusion (emphasis in original article):

Time between pitches is the primary villain. I tallied up all the pitches in both games that we’ll call inaction pitches — pitches that resulted in a ball, called strike, or swinging strike, but didn’t result in the end of an at-bat or the advancement of a runner. These are the pitches where the catcher caught the ball and threw it back to the pitcher, whose next step was to throw it back to the catcher. Foul balls didn’t count. The fourth ball of a plate appearance didn’t count. Stolen bases didn’t count. Wild pitches didn’t count. Just the pitches where contact wasn’t made, and the pitcher received a return throw from the catcher.

There were 146 inaction pitches in the 1984 game.

There were 144 of these pitches in the 2014 game.

The total time for the inaction pitches in 1984 — the elapsed time between a pitcher releasing one pitch and his release of the next pitch — was 32 minutes and 47 seconds.

The total time for inaction pitches in 2014 was 57 minutes and 41 seconds.

This is precisely what the pitch clock is intended to address. Both of the games that Grant Brisbee analyzed in 2017 are on YouTube, so you can watch them.

Here’s the 1984 Cubs game noted in the article. You’re used to watching games at a 2020s pace, and you will likely be surprised at how fast-paced this game is:

Now, here’s the Brewers/Pirates game from 2014 that Grant looked into. Watch it and see how the pace drags:

The bottom line is, as JJ Cooper writes, “eliminating dead time”:

The average time between pitches was cut from 34.8 seconds to 32.0. That’s total game time, so that includes the time used for between-inning changeovers, pitching changes and everything else that pauses the game. Making a rough calculation to just account for every the roughly two minutes, 20 seconds spent on between innings changeovers (without accounting for pitching changes, substitutions and any other delays of the game) finds a larger 3.5 second improvement in the between pitch pace.

Grant Brisbee didn’t believe his conclusion at first, but says it’s the only explanation:

The clocks in the minor leagues are being enforced at 14 seconds with the bases empty and 18 seconds with runners on base. That doesn’t seem unreasonable for major league pitchers, too. There are some MLB pitchers who will have to adjust to working faster. Yu Darvish is one of them — you likely noticed this when he was a Cub. Marcus Stroman also works deliberately and he’ll have to pick up the pace.

I hope MLB institutes the pitch clock in 2023 and enforces it on Opening Day — they can practice during Spring Training. Games are way too long, and as shown above, it’s mostly because there’s way more dead time between pitches than there was decades ago. If MLB can reduce the total game time to what it was in the 1980s, I’m all for it.


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