I was recently reading a review of the minor league rules changes over at The Ringer, and among the notable revelations was how impactful the pitch clock has been. Although iterations of the pitch clock have been around a few years now, the version installed in the Low-A West this year as a test was among the most aggressive: 15 second between pitches with the bases empty, and just 17 seconds with runners on base. That version cut game times by 20 minutes – all of it dead time, so it’s also an increase in the pace of action – so clearly, it “worked” by that measure. The question is whether, as we’ve seen with other pitch clock initiatives, players and coaches figure out a way to slow the pace back down, and all gains are eventually lost.
I raise the point now because, either way, it sure seems like the clock is coming to MLB. Here’s what Commissioner Rob Manfred said when asked about the topic before Game One of the World Series (via The Athletic):
“The data is certainly encouraging, game times in the 2:40s, which is really sort of a nice number when you think about it in comparison to where we’ve been,” Manfred said. “I think maybe more important than that is the people that go and watch the game fell like the pace of the game, the action in the game has really been improved, that it actually alters the requirement of moving along pitching, kind of changes the game, the way it’s played a little bit.”
That’s how a guy talks when he wants a certain change to take place. Although the pitch clock could come as part of the current CBA negotiations, it’s important to remember that the Commissioner can unilaterally implement rules changes of this kind with one year’s notice. It’s also important to remember that, with pitch clocks ubiquitous throughout the minors for the last five years, many big leaguers already have experience with them. It won’t be a total shock to the system, even if the length of the clock may need to be tinkered with.
I make no apologies for being a guy who is worried about the pace of action in baseball, and, by extension, the length of the games. They have, by and large, become too long and too empty of action. I’ll still watch, but I think it’s a lot harder to sell marginal fans (and create new ones) when you’re asking them to take in a FOUR-HOUR postseason game that consistently features almost five minutes(!) between balls in play.
A pitch clock won’t unilaterally solve the issues of length and pace, but if they can help in that process long-term, I’m very on board.
Not that it matters. Because, again, the way Manfred talks about the clock, it just sounds like it’s definitely coming. For more on how (positively) impactful the pitch clock can be, see this piece over at The Athletic, which digs in with the folks who actually experienced an aggressive pitch clock in the minor leagues this year. Generally, they either tolerated it fine … or realized it was great.