On Wednesday, the estimable and exquisitely coiffed Jeff Passan reported that MLB is contemplating a small change to the pitch clock for 2024. In its first yr, the pitch clock counted down from 20 seconds with runners on base; MLB desires to deliver that quantity all the way down to 18 seconds. The proposal additionally features a discount in mound visits from 5 per workforce to 4. MLB’s competitors committee will deliberate over these proposals after which — contemplating greater than half of the physique is appointed by the league — most certainly rubber-stamp them.
As for the headline change? It’s two seconds. It’s nothing. Two Mississippi. The Astros’ pitching employees alone has two Mississippi guys. (Okay, two Mississippi State guys.) MLB has already made the one largest change it’s ever going to make to the timing of the sport by instituting the pitch clock within the first place. How a lot can two seconds presumably matter?
I can not think about it’ll matter that a lot. If pitchers can ship the ball inside 15 seconds with the bases empty, certainly they will do it inside 18 seconds with baserunners on — particularly within the age of PitchCom. If taking away the power to fluctuate supply tempo reduces pitchers’ capability to manage the working sport, a lot the higher. We simply spent all season freaking out over how cool the likes of Ronald Acuña Jr. and Corbin Carroll are; allow them to steal much more bases.
Most pitchers are going to have the ability to take care of this transformation with out even noticing. Even with males on base, extra pitchers took 10 or fewer seconds to ship the ball than 16 or extra.
This alteration would additionally solely have an effect on lower than half of the pitches thrown within the majors subsequent yr. Between the 2023 common season and playoffs, there have been virtually 730,000 pitches thrown; simply 43.2% of them got here with males on base, and that’s the very best ratio of any full season because the introduction of Statcast. In all chance, essentially the most noticeable impact of this rule change might be that groups don’t have to exchange the lightbulbs on the pitch clocks as continuously.
The introduction of the pitch clock and pickoff guidelines couldn’t have been a extra rousing success in its first yr. MLB’s said objective was to deliver down sport time, and that it did. MLB is uncommon, as companies go, in that the league desires there to be much less of its product. We’re lucky pizzerias don’t abide by an analogous “much less is extra” philosophy.
The typical large league sport in 2023 lasted two hours and 42 minutes, down 24 minutes from 2022 and 29 minutes from 2021, the yr a three-hour, 11-minute common time of sport set a brand new all-time excessive.
This previous spring, I took my six-year-old niece to her first baseball sport, and at two hours and 4 minutes, it ended up being the shortest Phillies sport in 11 years. Thank goodness, as a result of we obtained the entire sport in earlier than my very own lack of parenting expertise (“Certain, you possibly can eat that complete adult-size serving of ice cream by yourself!”) triggered any issues.
This season additionally featured a one-hour, 50-minute Nationals-Pirates sport, the shortest main league contest in 13 years. All advised, 14 video games clocked in at two hours or much less. Shaving 20-odd minutes off the sport is good. For individuals who work on the park in any capability, or dad and mom of younger kids, or season-ticket holders who similar to to be in mattress earlier than 10 PM, it actually does make a distinction.
However it’s not nearly flattening the overall run time of the ballgame; the pitch clock did wonders when it comes to eliminating useless area, these agonizing nonetheless seconds between pitches with Craig Kimbrel or Giovanny Gallegos on the mound. It’s not simply that the video games had been 15% or so shorter than earlier than, it’s that the 15% that obtained minimize was all fats; it got here from essentially the most boring, like, 20-25% of the sport.
Finally, although, we viewers adjusted. And so did the gamers:
Pitch Timer Violations by Month
|Month||Video games||Pitcher Clock Violations||Per Recreation|
On one hand, that’s good. Gamers found out the best way to handle the clock fairly rapidly. Pitchers ran afoul of the timer about as soon as each different sport in March and April; in September, that ratio was about one each six video games. By midseason, you’d must be within the park staring on the clock in heart area with a view to discover something had modified.
However in addition they found out the best way to sport it. Catchers rapidly cottoned on to the truth that it was higher to burn a disengagement and name timeout with one second on the clock — like a quarterback double zeroes on the play clock — than threat a violation or a rushed supply. Hitters started utilizing their very own timeouts extra routinely; the two-strike hitter timeout is sort of a professional forma transfer now.
Right here, we return to Passan’s report: The reasoning behind the tweak to the pitch clock is that video games had been stretching out over the course of the season. Video games performed in April and Might clocked in at two hours, 37 minutes; video games performed in September had been seven minutes longer, on common.
That’s as a result of baseball gamers and coaches are each intelligent and extremely motivated to play the sport they need. Given sufficient time, they are going to discover loopholes and weak factors within the guidelines, and finally additional regulation might be launched to deliver the sport again in line.
The putative purpose for participant pushback on the shortened pitch clock is that the sport’s newly heightened tempo will result in extra pitcher accidents. Framing the problem this fashion paints proponents of a tighter pitch clock as insensitive, even anti-player.
To which I’ll say this: Goosing the tempo of the sport makes pitching extra bodily arduous underneath the circumstances the groups and gamers have created for themselves. From bodily conditioning to pitch design to roster building to in-game ways, every little thing has been optimized for the max-effort, breaking ball-heavy one-inning reliever.
This technique of participant growth and deployment is self-reinforcing. As requirements enhance for pitchers, the variety of pitchers who can throw 200 above-average innings a yr, flip over a lineup 3 times, pitch into the seventh inning of a playoff sport… are there even 30 of these guys in the complete league now?
The extra demanding the job will get, the extra pitchers get damage, and the extra replacements should be created. And one of the best ways to create a brand new useable large league pitcher is to stay him in entrance of an Edgertronic digicam, educate him a slider, and inform him to go on the market and throw like hell for 20 pitches at a time.
In fact pitchers are going to get damage doing that. For those who had been requested to run a 5K, took off at a 400 meter tempo, and obtained damage midway by the race, it wouldn’t imply that working was inherently harmful. The foundations have simply disincentivized cultivating endurance, as a result of with 13-man pitching staffs, you possibly can stack up eight or 9 grip-it-and-rip-it dudes in your bullpen and go an inning at a time.
I already talked about one of many first and shortest video games I went to this yr, however let’s flip to one of many final and longest: Recreation 2 of the ALDS between the Orioles and Rangers. This was an 11-8 sport that went three hours and 45 minutes, with 13 pitchers and 5 mid-inning pitching modifications. Eight Orioles pitchers mixed to throw 115 strikes out of 206 pitches, and issued 11 walks.
No pitch clock goes to hurry the sport up when each groups are bringing in a brand new reliever each 5 innings.
Legislating that out of the sport can be a titanic problem for MLB, if the league had been even inclined to make such modifications. It’s most likely the factor I like least concerning the present main league on-field product, and if I had been made dictator of the world, with carte blanche to alter it, I have no idea the place I’d begin.
A person workforce, incentivized to win, will pursue that objective with whole indifference to the leisure product. That, on a philosophical degree, is why sport occasions began to swing again up subsequent yr. However till and except one thing may be executed about that, let’s shave one other two seconds off the pitch clock within the meantime.