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Baseball May Be Implementing a Much-Needed Pitch Clock… Just Not Anytime Soon

One of the most controversial proposals for the game of baseball is being tabled for now.

Jacob deGrom by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Baseball May Be Implementing a Much-Needed Pitch Clock… Just Not Anytime Soon

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

To anyone who took the “beta” testing of the new pitch clock in Spring Training games as a sign of progress just around the corner, I have some bad news. The MLB is tabling this particular decision until at least 2022.

Good things come to those who wait. That’s how I’ll probably have to frame this for myself. Until then, my reaction is simply this: UGHHHHHH.

The discussion about the pitch clock is just one component of a larger proposal to improve the pace of play in the coming few years between the league and players’ union. Other potential changes to the game include a batter minimum for pitchers, further cuts to mound visits, and shortening between-inning breaks. The league offered to hold off on the pitch clock discussion in an attempt to work on the aforementioned changes for 2019 and 2020.

So for the next few years, when it comes to the pitch clock (or lack thereof), we are stuck with what we got. Unless the league decides to unilaterally implement the clock sooner (which it can do, but don’t hold your breath).

Let’s get two things straight. One: baseball has a real and present problem with the pace of play. Two: Among all the ideas being tossed around, the pitch clock could be one of the more effective methods in reducing the length of games. The concept is simple: the pitcher has no more than 20 seconds after a pitch is thrown to throw the next. If he fails to meet that deadline, he faces some kind of penalty in the count (say, an automatic “ball”). And if the batter fails to get ready to face the next pitch within that time, he too could face a penalty (say, a called “strike”).

The effect here could be huge. Assume there’s 300 total pitches thrown in a 9-inning game. If the pitch clock can knock off even 2 seconds between each pitch on average, you’re shaving around 10 minutes right off the top of every game. That is an excellent start.

We’ve reached an impasse

The league is in to it. And it’s not hard to imagine fans clamoring for anything that speeds up the game, too. Barely anyone sits through these 3-hour marathons 5 or 6 times a week. But of course, there’s always the players. And what do you know? They don’t much care for pitch clock at all! Who knew?

Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer had the following to say on the subject this past week, according to ESPN:

“I don’t think there’s negotiation here. As players, it just shouldn’t be in the game. Having a pitch clock, if you have ball-strike implications, that’s messing with the fabric of the game. There’s no clock in baseball, and there’s no clock in baseball for a reason.”

Scherzer, also an executive board member of the MLBPA, added that he is “fundamentally against” incorporating the pitch clock. Dodgers starter Rich Hill spoke out against the pitch clock as well, concerned that it could “dictate the outcome of the game”.

It’s not hard to understand why pitchers would be outspoken against the pitch clock. They are creatures of habit, often ruled by superstition. Whether or not they find a rhythm in a game is what determines whether their outing will be good or bad. It all makes total sense.

But I would hope that the players can see the big picture here. Whether the players believe it or not, baseball has a problem on its hands. The pace of the game can only be solved if everyone (players and the league alike) are willing to shake up the way things are done.

A fan’s reaction to the player’s reaction

I am 100% on Team Pitch Clock. No doubt about it. And I have no ill-will towards players for being against the pitch clock in theory. Because they have every right to be. But hearing some of the sentiments expressed by players like Scherzer and Hill leaves me with a few thoughts:

There seems to be a common theme of the pitch clock “changing the fabric” or “disrupting” the game. And yes, that is true. But it’ll disrupt the game for the better. Players didn’t seem too concerned about pitchers and batters taking their sweet time at the plate between pitches, which helped the length of games increase like 30 minutes on average over the last few decades. So lengthening games is totally cool, but trying to shorten them by a similar margin is suddenly a “change to the fabric” of the sport?

Most pitchers would likely have minimal trouble meeting this 20-second pitch clock deadline. The average time between pitches across the league, as of 2017, was 23.8 seconds. So we aren’t talking about a huge change here. Only a handful of guys (mostly relievers) would have to make some significant changes. And besides, the clock (as it was proposed) has some caveats that make it easier on the players during the transition. For example, the clock resets if the pitcher steps off the rubber with men on base. And the clock is not used after a foul ball. So it won’t even be a real factor in some cases, and players could use these loopholes to take slow things down if needed.

If the players won’t agree to the pitch clock for the sake of, I don’t know, improving the on-field and television product of thousands of fans, there is still a hand here for them to play. Taking this bullet could be a decisive factor in the quid pro quo nature of the upcoming CBA talks with the league. Agree to the pitch clock, and maybe the league decides to impose restrictions preventing teams from tanking, or a new salary floor. The pitch clock could be ultimately be the key to repair the free agency fiasco today’s superstars find themselves in. They just need to meet the league halfway.

2022 is going to bring us a lot in the world of sports. We’ll have the Beijing Winter Olympics and the 22nd World Cup in Qatar. We’ll see the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Center Court at Wimbledon. 2022 will be the year of the tiger in the Chinese Zodiac. Let’s also hope it’s the year of the pitch clock.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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