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MLB’s pitch timer has had some unintended consequences — for team broadcasters

The faster pace of play means changes for the on-air product.

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Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Last week, I noted here that the new pitch timer had increased the pace of play in spring games thus far to the point where Cubs spring games were almost half an hour faster than they were at similar points over the previous five spring seasons.

This has continued over the last week. Several Cubs games were completed in 2:20 or shorter. If this keeps up, we could have the shortest average MLB game time since the 1970s this year.

Once the regular season begins I would expect games to run a bit longer. The first reason is that teams aren’t really playing much situational baseball now. Once that begins, there could be more “disengagements” (throws to first with runners on) and other considerations for specific game situations. The other thing that will add a bit of time to games is replay review. There are no reviews during spring games.

The unintended consequences for team broadcasters noted in the headline is, per this article by Chad Jennings in The Athletic, less time to tell stories. A number of team broadcasters are quoted in the article, including Marquee Sports Network’s Boog Sciambi:

“It takes too much time for nothing to happen,” Cubs and ESPN broadcaster Jon “Boog” Sciambi said. “That’s what we’ve been watching. And for broadcasters, that’s basically an invitation to say stupid s—.”

Well. That seems pretty self-aware on the part of Sciambi, and so does this:

“As someone who is long-winded and a gasbag — and you can use that — there’s nothing bad about less of me,” Sciambi said.

There’s no doubt that if games move more quickly, there will be less time for stories and it will become more important for broadcasters to pick their moments so they don’t miss calling game action. I hope Sciambi and Marquee take note of this once the regular season begins.

Also important for broadcasters will be to help explain the rule changes that are coming to the game this year. This example was given by Wayne Randazzo, a Chicago-area native who calls Los Angeles Angels games:

In the second inning of a game on March 1, the Angels executed a pickoff with runners at the corners. The play was easy enough to describe, but Randazzo did not immediately note the strategic ramifications. Under the new rules, each pickoff attempt increases the potential for a balk — pitchers are allowed limited disengagements — and in that situation, a balk would have scored the runner from third. The pickoff attempt was gutsy, and Randazzo was kicking himself later for not mentioning it on the air.

“That’s something you would like to have in real-time to at least have a discussion about,” Randazzo said.

What I’ll be hoping for as I watch Cubs games on Marquee this year — and also games on other channels — is more focus on the action on the field as it moves more quickly than it has in previous years.

As always, we await developments.