After a trial run in the Arizona Fall League, Major League Baseball announced it will use a pitch clock in Double-A and Triple-A games. Will it help? And, is it enough?
This past offseason, Major League Baseball officials began instituting a pitch clock in the Arizona Fall League as a way to fix their pace-of-play issues. As a whole, it seemed to go over well, but it was announced that it wouldn’t be used in the Major Leagues this season. At the General Manager Winter Meetings, Joe Torre, MLB’s Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, said that a pitch clock is coming, but that it was still “down the road.” It looked like the clock would have to wait until 2016 before getting into any sort of meaningful baseball game. That was, until yesterday, when the announcement was made that a pitch clock will be used in some Double-A and Triple-A ballparks this season.
The Minor Leagues are where the majority of rule changes start out. This way, some players would be able to get the exposed to it before it gets to the Major League level, so the prospects will be used to it. It also allows baseball, or any sport, to work out the kinks in a lower-stress environment. It isn’t only done in baseball, as many of the other sporting leagues use the minors to test out new rules as well. The NHL, for instance, is contemplating the use of a new overtime format. In baseball, the Minor Leagues are where instant replay got a start before being brought up to the Majors.
If the clock is similar to the one used in the Fall League, it will give pitchers 20 seconds between pitches. A pitcher will have 20 seconds to gather himself, decide what to throw, and get the ball to home plate. The penalty during the Arizona Fall League was a ball being assessed to the count, which can result in a walk if the situation calls for it. There are some problems with this. Some players didn’t like the feeling that they were being rushed. The penalty for running out the clock would be one that will have to be sorted out. This means that a game could conceivably end while a pitcher is trying to figure out what pitch to throw so as not to lose the game.
Most people believe that the pace of the game is what is causing lower attendances and television ratings, and they have a point. For most, myself included, baseball is a sport to have on while doing other thing. I grew up with the games on while I was doing my homework, and unless it was a playoff game or a must-see matchup, I rarely sat down to watch all three, sometimes more, hours. Baseball’s long-held position as a “background noise” sport hardly drives attendence. Sometimes, I would even wait until the rebroadcast, where they cut some of the innings and downtime where nothing happened; I saw the majority of the action and was done within two hours. The hope is that by making the pitcher get rid of the ball sooner, it will allow for more plays, which is what fans want to see.
While the pitch clock is nice, it is only a start. Players are concerned that too much of the blame for the pace of the game is being put on their shoulders. While there is something to say about the amount of time they take to adjust pads and gloves, the problem isn’t the players alone. They should work on limiting the amount of time in between innings, but that would hurt the game from a marketing standpoint (time between innings are for commercials, after all). Given how many breaks there are in a Major League game, especially with the amount of pitching changes (sometimes multiple in an inning), it can be quite frustrating. Too often, especially during the playoffs, the audience must wait a 3-4 minutes for a reliever to come in and throw his warm-ups, only to face one batter, then be taken out of the game, so the process can repeat itself.
One aspect that needs more data is how much time the pitch clock will actually save. This isn’t the cure that the game needs, but it is a start. In fact, this probably should have been the last thing that was instituted. If Major League Baseball wants to speed the game up, they need to focus on how many meetings go on inside the game. The number of times the pitching coach comes out and how many times the catcher is allowed to go to the pitcher’s mound are two that come to mind. The meetings and the commercials are what is making the games drag so long, so it is a little confusing that they’ve decided to start where they have.
Major League Baseball believes that the pace of play is the biggest obstacle facing the game today. They believe that a pitch clock is the first step in fixing the problem, but it is only the beginning. If the game is going to regain some of the viewership that it has lost over time, they will need to do more. At least they are starting, more than you could say in past years.