There remains hope that the league and the players can come to an agreement on pace-of-play changes for the 2018 season, lest the Commissioner impose certain changes unilaterally. To that end, a limitation on mound visits and a pitch clock seem to be the biggest points of emphasis for the league, but some percentage of the player population has been resistant to each idea for a variety of reasons.
Negotiations are ongoing, though – so that’s good! – and it sounds like the Commissioner has made an offer to the players if they truly don’t want to see a pitch clock imposed:
Rob Manfred has proposed to the union that there will be no pitch clock in 2018, and if game time goes to 2;55 or less, there will be no clock in 2019 either
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) February 1, 2018
If no agreement with players, a pitch clock will be in place this year. Manfred has given players option for a one-year delay and then indefinite hold if game time falls below 2:55.
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) February 1, 2018
It should be noted that game times averaged a record three hours and five minutes in 2017, so getting under two hours and fifty-five minutes per game in 2018 would be a significant drop. Pulling it off without a pitch clock and other rules changes would seem to be exceedingly difficult (which, hey, maybe that’s the idea if you really want to impose a pitch clock and you don’t want to keep losing the PR battle … ).
We’ve made it no secret around here that we’re pitch clock proponents. For me, it’s the cleanest, most effective, and most reliable way to improve pace without being subject to the nebulous contours of a particular player’s desire to “speed things up” on a given day. I think 20 seconds between pitches is *plenty* of time for pitchers and batters to get things going without giving off the “feel” that they’re up against a clock (which, I agree, is not something I want in baseball). The clock has been in place in the minor leagues for years now, and observers tend to agree that they don’t even notice it.
Regardless of the mechanism for improving pace, however, my focus has almost entirely been on that – the pace. While I do think super long games are not necessarily great for the long-term health of the sport, I also think that’s far less of an issue than having too much dead time within a game. As long as the actual game action is happening at a relatively brisk pace, I just don’t think it’s a big deal whether a game is 2 hours and 50 minutes, or 3 hours and 10 minutes. I believe the sport can engage and maintain new, younger fans in either case, in part because I don’t know how many full games newer fans are going to be sitting and watching anyway – realistically, you’d like them to be watching highlights and then large chunks of games (I could get down a whole wormhole on how I think you best cultivate new fans of the game, but it’s going to require more cogent articulation than I can muster with a brain full of pain meds).
So, tying the pitch clock plan so explicitly to the length of the games is a strange approach, not only because I have a hard time seeing so much time shaved off of the games without a clock (10+ minutes gone because players just happen to speed up that much?), but also because it suggests that “length” is what really matters, and not the pace at which action is occurring. So long as the games are shorter, this approach indicates, then there is no issue with pace-of-play. That, to me, does not square.
I look forward to hearing more about the negotiations, and what the final plan looks like for 2018 and beyond. I remain happy that these issues are being looked at, as they are important for the long-term health of the game, but I’d like to see the league and the players on the same page with respect to implementation.