First, let me acknowledge something…baseball already has a rule in place for how long a pitcher has to deliver a pitch. If no one is on base, the pitcher must start his windup and deliver his pitch within 12 seconds of receiving the ball. If the pitcher fails to do this, the home plate umpire is supposed to call “Ball!” The problem is that this never, ever, enforced. MLB pitchers are routinely timed at 25-30 seconds before delivering pitches. In today’s “Three True Outcomes” game, pitchers are taught to “execute” pitches. They try to achieve max velocity on every one of them, and to throw them perfectly.
MLB has also been trying a myriad of things to shorten games, and to quicken pace of play. They want games to generally fit into three hour TV time slots, making broadcasting easier. That used to be easier, but the average game is now longer than three hours. They’ve limited trips to the mound, required pitchers to face at least three batters, stopped requiring a ball to be thrown to award an intentional walk, among other things. None of it has had much effect. They want to quicken the pace of play because surveys of casual fans indicate the game is “boring.” To me, the answer to that last one is less Three True Outcomes, and more balls in play.
Pitch clocks have been in use in minor leagues for a few years now. However, the MLBPA has been resisting it at the major league level. Pitchers trying to execute pitches, the throw hard and throw perfectly want that 25-30 second rest between pitches. Fans have balked at virtually every possible change, feeling things like pitch clocks would detract from the game and draw focus to time in a game whose charm partly rests on being timeless.
I live in a AAA city. Thus, must of my live pro ball viewing is AAA ball. The pitch clock is in use at these games. I can tell you, I find it very unobtrusive. I glance at it only now and then, just confirming the pitcher is not in fact running the clock to zero and getting away with it. They don’t.
Some have suggested a pitch clock wouldn’t affect game completion significantly. I’ve stated anecdotal evidence—ie, my experience—suggested that was wrong. Most AAA games I’ve gone to last about 2:30. Now, however, there is more than anecdotal evidence. This season, a subset of 350 minor league games were run without a pitch clock as a control group to compare to the minor league games run with the clock. Non-pitch clock games ran 2:59. Pitch clock games ran 2:39…20 minutes less per game with the only variable changed being the pitch clock. QED. Further, hits and runs per game were not significantly different. Face it, this has MLB excited, and you can very well expect pitch clocks in major league parks as soon as 2023.
I think in the long run this will also have a positive effect on pace of play as well as shortening the run time. Pitchers not being able to rest as long between pitches are more likely to rely more on movement and pitch placement than spin rate on a max velocity fastball. Inducing ground balls to get outs just might reduce the number of home runs. Batters, if launch angles aren’t working as well, might have to adjust as well. More balls in play. More trying to manufacture runs. That isn’t trying to change baseball. It’s trying making it more like the game we 40+-year-old fans should remember from our youths.
Couldn’t umpires just enforce the rules? Yes, they could. Yes, they should. However, they don’t and won’t unless forced to…by a pitch clock. At this point, I say bring it on!