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A few more thoughts on the MLB pitch timer

It’s been a great thing for baseball. But some are still complaining.

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Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The pitch timer (its official name, though some still call it the “pitch clock”) has been excellent for baseball, in my opinion. In the early-season going, the average game time has dropped by about 25 minutes, about the same as happened during Spring Training. And it’s not just that the games are shorter, there’s more action (including far more stolen bases) and less dead time, and batting averages are up. Small sample size, of course, but it seems to me that the timer is doing exactly what Major League Baseball hoped it would do — move baseball back to the more action-filled, balls-in-play style of play that we saw in the 1980s.

Yet, some people are still criticizing. I cannot understand why a respected national writer like Ken Rosenthal would post a piece headlined “With the pitch clock, will MLB sacrifice its most memorable moments?”

Rosenthal cites, among other things, the walkoff home run by Kirk Gibson in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Absolutely, that’s a memorable moment filled with drama and of course we wouldn’t want to “sacrifice” things like that. Rosenthal notes:

That sucker lasted approximately 5 minutes and 25 seconds — not including the 1:19 it took Gibson, dealing with a bad left hamstring and swollen right knee, to emerge from the dugout and find his way to the batter’s box.

Okay, so under the current rules, Gibson wouldn’t have that much time to get into the batter’s box, he’d have to do it within the current 30 seconds, which is dutifully counted down by the timer.

I simply don’t see why that would reduce any “drama.” The at-bat still likely ends up the way it did, presuming Dennis Eckersley, the pitcher involved, uses the same sequence of pitches.

More importantly, what was the overall length of that game? 3:02... for a game that included 14 hits, nine walks, 15 strikeouts and nine runs. Try doing that in 2022 — a game like that in the postseason likely lasts four hours. A game like that in the 2023 regular season? We’re probably looking at around average, 2:35 or so.

The timer is doing what it’s supposed to do and I don’t believe any “drama” will be lost in important moments. Plus, we’re only a week into the season! Stop worrying about the postseason when we haven’t even had one yet!

Former Cubs executive Theo Epstein, one of the architects of this year’s rule changes, was interviewed recently by Jayson Stark. Here’s what Theo said in response to some players saying they felt “rushed”:

“I guess I’d make two main points in response to that,” Epstein said. “The first is about the adjustment period, and what we learned in the rollout in the minor leagues. And the second is about listening.”

In the minor leagues, “players did adjust,” he said. “And they also gave us qualitative feedback … that after about three, four weeks of playing under the pitch timer-rules, it became second nature and not something they ever had to really think about again, and that they adjusted their routines and their natural rhythms to coincide with the parameters of the pitch clock.”

That’s exactly what MLB officials told us at a demonstration of the pitch timer in Arizona in February:

Major League Baseball

Doing the math, that’s about 90 percent of all players saying they had adjusted within about a month. And they actually had that month during Spring Training, though of course MLB players don’t play every day or every inning during those games. So grant them another month of regular-season play to adjust to the pace and tone of those games. I’d say by May the complaints should be reduced to just about zero.

Commissioner Rob Manfred, though, said MLB is keeping an open mind. He was quoted in Rosenthal’s article:

“Our feet are not in stone with respect to the pitch clock,” Manfred said on the Rich Eisen Show. “We saw it in the minor leagues. We’ve seen it in spring training. We want to see it in regular-season games, particularly in situations that are high leverage. We will talk about what should happen in those situations. And we certainly have the capacity to make adjustments on the fly during the course of the season.”

Personally, I wouldn’t make a single change to the timer. Not in regular-season games, not in the postseason. Players always adjust to changes in the game and I believe as the season goes on, we’ll see fewer complaints about the timer as players adjust.

Then there’s the question of whether shorter games lead to lower concession sales. JJ Cooper of Baseball America talked to some minor-league team executives about this, since the timer has been in effect there for a couple of years. He found that sales were not reduced, because instead of leaving early, fans stayed for almost all of the game when it was shorter.

Evan Drellich examined this topic in The Athletic and quoted Manfred as basically agreeing with that:

“When we went from no clock to a clock and lost the 26 minutes, what we found is that there was no decrease in our concession sales,” Manfred said during an executive luncheon hosted by the Paley Media Council in New York. “And we think the reason for that is people kind of, in their head, have two and a half hours set aside to do this baseball game. So before the clock, if two and a half hours was at the end of six (innings), they were gone, OK? Now, they stayed until the end of the game, and we’ve seen absolutely no decline on the concession side. And that’s a really important indicator of how serious the problem was that we were trying to deal with.”

Anecdotally, I can confirm that, though in a very small sample size (three games at Wrigley Field). Over the last few years, when games routinely lasted more than three hours and many more than 3:30, Wrigley fans would often bail after the seventh-inning stretch, or after watching the Cubs bat in the bottom of the seventh. Even with chilly weather over this year’s first weekend at Wrigley against the Brewers, that didn’t happen — at least in the two games that were close. Last Sunday, when the game turned into a blowout, some fans did leave early, but that’s to be expected in games of that nature.

All in all, I think the pitch timer has been great for baseball. It’s eliminated all the dead time of batters standing around adjusting batting gloves or pitchers wandering around the mound trying to execute the “perfect” pitch. It’s helped lead to more balls in play and, along with the disengagement rule and larger bases, helped jumpstart more offense.

In my view, it’s working. Don’t mess with it.


MLB’s pitch timer...

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    It’s great! Don’t change a thing!
    (223 votes)
  • 22%
    It works well, but possibly add a bit of time in postseason games
    (77 votes)
  • 9%
    I don’t like it. Baseball shouldn’t have a clock
    (32 votes)
  • 3%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (12 votes)
344 votes total Vote Now