Reports out of Major League Baseball’s annual owners meetings are indicating that the owners are taking steps toward the implementation of a pitch clock at the MLB level. While there is no indication that the pitch clock will be used in the bigs in 2015, it is being reported by Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports that Double-A and Triple-A games will feature a 20-second pitch clock with the goal of accelerating the pace of play of America’s Pastime.
The idea certainly has its merits, and accelerating the pace of play of games that often take longer than four hours to complete is a reasonable goal. Using a pitch clock to do so, however, is a poor solution for fixing a problem that may not really be all that much of a problem to begin with. The main rationale behind improving pace of play is to ensure that the next generation of baseball fans – who, as asserted by far too many sources to mention, have little to no attention spans -- are attracted to the game. In that regard, baseball could do a much better job using social media and fan interaction to promote the game, as it has lagged far behind the other major sports in this type of engagement.
While baseball may be nonetheless right to pursue pace of play changes, there are a number of reasons why MLB should abandon the idea of using a pitch clock in an attempt to do so. The pitch clock may simply be an eventuality that everyone just has to accept, but that does not mean it is a good idea. What follows are 10 reasons why the pitch clock is simply a terrible idea for MLB.
10 Negligible Impact on Time of the Game
The pitch clock was recently tested in the Arizona Fall League, and, along with a number of other changes, resulted in the games being significantly shorter, with the bulk of the games checking in at an average of just over 2 ½ hours. That was not the result of just the pitch clock, but a host of other rules that eliminated the need to throw any pitches for an intentional walk, limited the amount of conferences on the mound, reduced the time a pitcher is allowed to warm-up when entering the game and also reduced the amount of time between innings. On the whole, it is the other changes that accelerated the pace of play and not just the pitch clock. Besides, a slugfest that results in a 14-12 final score will still take upwards of four hours, while a 1-0 pitcher’s duel will likely be significantly shorter independent of any changes.
9 Too Many Loopholes Exist
With a runner on base, a pitcher still has the option of throwing over to hold the runner on. If a pitcher sees that time is running out on the pitch clock, what is to stop him from simply tossing the ball over to one of the bases in order to reset the pitch clock? You certainly could not limit the amount of times that a pitcher could throw over, as this would just result in runners trying to draw throws in order to get a pitcher to reach their max so they could steal a base freely and easily. So if a pitcher really wants to take his time when there is a high-leverage situation, he will actually be encouraged to throw over to a base – something that often draws the ire of the fans in the stands because of the delay it causes.
8 Potentially Adverse Effect on In-Game Strategy
There is simply no disputing that the catchers serve as the managers on the field, and limiting the amount of time between pitches will limit their ability to take note of a particular situation at hand while analyzing all of the potential outcomes inherent in that situation. The catcher must also look to the dugout for signals and then relay them to the pitcher and the rest of the infield. In normal game situations, this typically does not take much time (likely much less than 20 seconds), but during a high-leverage situation it is necessary to conduct this type of thorough in-game analysis. The same goes for the hitter, who is processing how the pitcher may choose to approach him and is also considering which pitch to look for and which ones to lay off. The game within the game would therefore be somewhat minimized, and the outcomes of games would become less reliant on the strategies implemented by players and managers.
7 Limiting the Drama of High-Leverage Situations
Baseball – especially in the postseason – serves as incredible theater. There are moments of great intensity in which the audience is able feel the tension and the pressure of each pitch and swing. Cameras during baseball broadcasts often focus in tightly on the faces of the players involved, allowing the audience to see the physical manifestations of their will and determination to succeed in any given situation. It is the sports equivalent of watching a warrior standing perfectly still while surveying the battlefield before him, about to charge into a situation that may very well lead to his end. With a pitch clock, these moments will be significantly reduced and the tension minimized, and surely no one wants to see a quick-pitch grooved down the middle of the plate when the game is on the line.
6 Pace of Play Is Affected More by Increasingly Specialized Relievers
It is a simple fact of the matter that the duration of games has increased greatly over the past 40 years or so. The greatest reason for the increase is not pitchers pacing around the mound while playing with the rosin bag, but instead is the result of the increased specialization of bullpens. Every team now has a left-handed specialist who is brought in to face one left-handed batter before leaving the game. It is not uncommon to see managers use four or five pitchers per game, or to use two or three pitchers in a single inning. The time it takes for each to enter the game and warm up in the middle of an inning lengthens the game considerably, not to mention the stalling that takes place when a manager is trying to allow a reliever to get warmed up in the bullpen before being called upon. When games lasted less than two hours, it was because starting pitchers would pitch complete games on a regular basis, and a pitcher racking up 300 innings in a season was a fairly common occurrence.
5 Penalty for Exceeding the Pitch Clock Limit Is Disproportionate
So what happens when a pitcher is unable to deliver a pitch before the pitch clock expires? The batter is issued a ball and the game continues. This may seem like a minor penalty, but there are numerous situations in which the issuance of a ball can greatly affect the outcome of a game. High-leverage situations are the most likely to result in a pitch clock violation, and what could be more anti-climactic than a 3-2 count with the bases loaded resulting in a walk-off base-on-balls that wins a game on a technicality? Furthermore, what happens if the violation is in dispute? Would baseball include a review on pitch clock violations similar to that of the NBA? For example, if the pitcher has released the ball just before the expiration of the clock but the play is called dead by the umpire, what happens on review? A do-over? Surely this is the point of rolling the pitch clock out in the minors first, but the penalty is disproportionately harsh no matter how the rule is ultimately implemented.
4 Baseball’s Downtime Makes for a Unique Opportunity for Shared Experience
In suggesting this rule change, MLB is relying on a premise that simply may not be true. The idea is that a longer game will alienate a younger generation of fans, and that a fast-paced game is more appealing to fans in general. One of the great things about baseball is its leisurely pace, as it allows fans to interact with each other and discuss the game (or anything else for that matter) without missing out on what is happening on the field. The shared experience of baseball is why it is so appealing as a family activity, and it is hard to imagine that anyone wants to spend less time relaxing in the sun on a beautiful summer day at the ballpark.
3 Hitters Are Increasingly Patient in the Batter’s Box
When Cuban-born players such as Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu burst onto the baseball scene, a fundamental philosophical difference between their approach at the plate and the approach of American-born players was immediately noticed. There was a tendency among the Cuban players to go after the first pitch they saw (which was often the best pitch to hit), while the American-born players are taught to “work the count” in their favor. The fact is that most of the players in baseball today share the latter approach, and pitch counts have risen steadily and in concert with the duration of games. A pitch clock is not going to change how many pitches a batter sees, and the number of pitches thrown during a game has a greater effect on the duration of a game than the time between pitches does.
2 Time Limits Could Increase Pitcher Fatigue and Durability
One of the major issues plaguing baseball today is the incidence of Tommy John surgeries required by pitchers, a surgery that is associated with overuse. Some of the game’s brightest young pitchers have succumbed to this injury over the past year, including Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez, and the pitch clock could become a contributing factor. As a game wears on, pitchers tire and require more rest between pitches. A slow walk around the mound, a trip to the rosin bag or a brief conference with the catcher are all tools used to help a pitcher recover and delay the effects of fatigue. With a 20-second pitch clock, it may become the case that pitchers become fatigued earlier in the game, at which point managers will either turn to their bullpen or allow their pitcher to continue despite being tired. This means that there could be even more pitching changes or a greater incidence of injury due to a more difficult workload. These are both outcomes that MLB should be looking to avoid.
1 Rushing Players Reduces the Quality of Play
Spectators at any sporting event want to see athletes performing at the peak of their ability, and it could very well be the case that the pitch clock limits the quality of play. Fans can expect more pitches to be rushed in order to avoid a pitch-clock penalty, and there would be less opportunity for all of the strategy that makes baseball great. In basketball, a shot clock that is winding down often results in a contested shot that misses wildly, an outcome that fans appreciate because the effort of the defense plays a major role in forcing a bad shot. In baseball that would not be the case, and the ball awarded to the batter would feel empty and arbitrary. Fans want to see the best that baseball has to offer, and a pitch clock could adversely affect the quality of the game that fans ultimately see.