Last month, I wrote this article about the pitch clock, which has been instituted across the minor leagues this year. In it, I cited some data gathered by J.J. Cooper of Baseball America, who concluded:
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.
The way this happened was eliminating dead time between pitches, which is the major culprit for long games and what makes the pace of play so slow in MLB games. If you don’t believe this, I will once again refer you to Grant Brisbee’s seminal article on this topic from 2017, in which he analyzed a game from 1984 and one from 2014 and concluded:
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.
That’s what the pitch clock is trying to correct, and according to another J.J. Cooper article from this past weekend, it’s still working:
Since the new pitch clock rules were adopted on April 15, the average MiLB nine-inning game has taken 2:35 to play. In the two weeks of the season without pitch clock rules, nine-inning games were lasting 2:59 on average. In 2021, the average nine-inning MiLB game without these pitch clock rules took 3:00 to play. That’s a 13.4% reduction in the time of game.
In comparison, the average MLB nine-inning game is taking 3:05 to play this year.
Cooper goes on to note that the average MiLB game in 2022 is about the same as its 2021 counterpart in plate appearances per game, hits and runs per game, and pitchers per game. Here’s where the difference lies:
The amount of action happening in these games is roughly the same as it was last year, including virtually identical numbers of pitches per game. And the time allotted for between-inning changeovers and pitching changes has not been altered. But roughly 24 minutes per game have been cut by eliminating time between pitches and between at-bats.
It really is that simple. And, Cooper says, pitchers and batters are adjusting:
The number of pitch clock violations called has steadily dropped. In the first week of the new rules, there were 1.54 pitch clock violations per game. The next week, those dropped to 1.19 per game. The following week there were 0.93 and the past week there have been 0.68 violations per game.
From Cooper’s article, here are comparable game lengths from 2021 and 2022:
That’s a significant difference and would really improve not just the lengths of games, but the pace of play, which is the important thing, as noted above, it’s the dead time between pitches that MLB is trying to eliminate.
One thing MLB is going to have to do once they do institute the pitch clock is to codify exactly when the clock will start. The minor-league rule is as follows:
For the first pitch of an at-bat, the timer shall start when the pitcher has possession of the ball in the dirt circle surrounding the pitcher’s rubber, and the batter is in the dirt circle surrounding home plate.
The timer will stop as soon as the pitcher begins his wind-up, or begins the motion to come to the set position.
You can see what might happen at the MLB level — a catcher or fielder holds on to the ball after a play ends for several seconds before throwing it back to the pitcher, to delay the start of the clock. This apparently isn’t happening in the minor leagues, but I would urge MLB to codify something that starts the clock perhaps within five seconds after a play ends to avoid delay shenanigans. They will also have to limit hitters asking for time and stepping out, which is also a big part of the pace of play issue.
In any case, what’s happening across Minor League Baseball is great news for those of us who would like to see MLB games pick up the pace of play. I don’t expect MLB game times to drop by almost 25 minutes, as has been the case in MiLB so far this year. But even 15-20 minutes of time saved would be great.
I hope Rob Manfred notifies the MLBPA that the pitch clock will be instituted on Opening Day 2023. The commissioner’s office can now do that with 45 days’ notice, per the new CBA, and teams can then practice with it during Spring Training.
Get it done. It’s way past ... time.