January 21, 2018

A Pitch Clock Is Not The Answer (& Ortiz Forgets His Past)

The Players Association rejected management's pace-of-play proposal last Thursday, but changes to the game - a 20-second pitch clock and a limit on mound visits - will likely be implemented without the union's approval for the 2018 season.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said he would prefer an agreement with the players' union, but "we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other". (Well, so much for "I don't care if I never get back".)

The players are deeply opposed to MLB's proposals; any sort of compromise is unlikely. (Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports noted that "the frozen free-agent market has angered players and emboldened them".) The union believes game times can be reduced by other means, including shortening the time between innings.

The length of the average nine-inning game in 2017 was 3:05, the highest of all-time. That is an increase of 15 minutes over the average time in 1995.

Looking at this chart, I see that over a certain six-year period (1945-1950), the time of the average nine-inning game increased by 41 minutes: 1:38 to 2:19! (I wonder what happened during that time to cause such a 42% increase in game times? Hint: Regular network broadcasting got rolling in 1946 and the World Series was televised for the first time in 1947.)

The average time between pitches in 2017 was 22 seconds and each team threw an average of 147.9 pitches per game. So if each of an average game's 296 pitches were delivered two seconds faster, that would save 592 seconds - or 10 minutes.

Passan obtained a copy of MLB's memo regarding the proposed rule changes:
MLB intends to use a 20-second pitch clock with the bases empty and runners on, according to the memo. In the proposed agreement, the pitch clock would have been 18 seconds with the bases empty and would have been shut off with runners on. The clock will start when a pitcher has the ball on the mound and stop when the pitcher begins his windup or comes set. If the pitcher steps off the rubber, the clock resets. Batters must be in the box five seconds after the clock starts.

Should a pitcher run afoul of the rule, he will receive one warning per game. The next violation would result in an automatic ball. ...

The restrictions on mound visits are particularly acute. Any time a coach, manager or player visits a pitcher on the mound, or a pitcher leaves the mound to confer with a player, it counts as a visit. Upon the second visit to the pitcher in the same inning, he must exit the game. ...

In addition, there will be a 30-second between-batters timer implemented starting opening day. Each hitter will receive one warning per game. ...

MLB intends in 2019 to make inning breaks 2 minutes, 20 seconds for local games and 2:40 for national games, according to the memo, and to institute a six-pitch maximum for warm-ups that must be finished with 35 seconds left on the between-innings clock.
Former Red Sox stars Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz both said they approve of a pitch clock.

If it were for someone like me, I would love the clock. I would love to have to work quick because I was ready and I was trying to work that way. Somehow, when I had my stuff, it was easier for me to attack you early, 1-2-3, and see what you were thinking or not allow you to think too much. For pitchers, they don't know it really, but it's a huge advantage to go out there quickly and execute your pitches. But you also have to take command of your rhythm and the things you do, because if not, things can go south relatively quick.
The game is turning a little boring because of the time. Now that I'm on this side watching the game, I know. When you're watching a three- or four-hour game, it gets a little complicated. I think MLB needs to do whatever it takes to keep up with the pace of the game.
Ortiz also mentioned his adjustment to the 2015 rule that batters must keep one foot in the box at all times during their plate appearances:
I thought I was going to have problems adjusting myself to it, but I was fine with it. It's not like there's much time that you really need as a hitter, as a batter. But it's like when you're in the fire, you just want to keep up with the fire, you know what I'm saying? I don't think there's going to be any issues with it.
Really, David? You were fine with it? And you don't need that much time between pitches anyway? ... Hmmmmmm... Actually, when told about the rule in spring training, Ortiz complained loud and long:
It seems like every rule goes in the pitcher's favor. After the pitch you have to stay in the box? With one foot? I call that bullshit. ... They don't understand that when you come out of the box you're thinking about what the guy's trying to do. This is not like you go to the plate with an empty mind. We're not doing it just for doing it. Our mind is speeding up. When I come out, I'm thinking, "What is this guy going to try to do to me next?" I'm not walking around just because there are cameras all over the place and I want my buddies back home to see me. ...

If you force a hitter to [speed up his routine], 70 percent you are out, because you have no time to think. I don't know how this baseball game is going to end up. No matter what you do, the game is not going to speed up. ... This game has been going on for over 100 years. It's the nature of the game. ... Every time they want to speed up the game, they come to the hitters. They have to put it on the pitchers too. We're not the only ones in the game. How about the guy on the mound going like this for three hours [mocking a pitcher shaking off signs]. I don't think it's fair. That's the bottom line.
When he was told of possible fines for non-compliance, Ortiz said: "I might run out of money. I'm not going to change my game. I don't care what they say."

(Perhaps Ortiz was pissed during spring training and then when the season began, he found it was not such a big deal. Maybe... It doesn't explain his recent comment about not needing much time to think between pitches, though.)

In 2015, seven minor leagues (five in AAA, two in AA) began using a pitch clock. The results have been mixed. In the first year, the leagues cut 12 minutes from their average game time, but times have crept back up. International League games dropped from 2:56 to 2:40, but then rose to 2:42 and 2:49. A similar pattern occurred in the Pacific Coast League: falling from 2:58 to 2:45 before rising to 2:48 and 2:53.

Tom Verducci (Sports Illustrated) reported the same thing. It seems that when the rules were enforced, games were shorter, but as the umpires became lax about the rules, the players stopped complying.

Regardless, a pitch clock is not necessary. MLB already has a rule on the books to speed up the pace of play. But umpires refuse to enforce it and Manfred seems not to know it exists. It's Rule 8.04:
When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call "Ball."

The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.

The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.
The Commissioner does not need to force any rules on the players. He simply has to tell the umpires to do their jobs: Enforce the 12-second rule.

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