Saturday, January 17, 2015

A New Way To Clock Pitches

Here's your weekend baseball story courtesy Deadspin.  It seems Major League Baseball has been running into a lot of problem with the fact the average MLB game now lasts on average over three hours.  One way to speed things up?  The pitch clock.

An experiment to speed up the pace of games was apparently successful enough for baseball officials to bring it to the next level: some minor league stadiums at the Double-A and Triple-A levels will be outfitted with 20-second pitch clocks by the beginning of the season. 
The news was first reported by MLB Daily Rumors, and confirmed and fleshed out by Fox Sports. While specifics of where and how often the clock will be tried out have yet to be established, we know how it'll work from its use in the Arizona Fall League: pitchers have exactly 20 seconds from the moment they receive the ball to come to the set position for the next pitch. It'll be tracked by on-field scoreboards visible to pitchers and umpires, and if they fail to come set, the umpire declares an automatic ball.

So in practice, the pitch clock works.  It's cut games from three hours to around 2:15, and hopefully will become standard practice in AA and AAA games.  That's the good news.

The bad news:  it'll never happen in the majors.

MLB is taking this very seriously, using the AFL and now the minors as a proving ground for six new rules, some fairly radical, to get things moving again. In addition to the pitch clock, these experimental minor-league games will also adopt time limits on pitching changes and breaks between innings, and a rule that batters must remain inside the batter's box between pitches.

It's not clear if the other two rules tried out in the AFL—one limiting the number of mound visits a team can make, and one allowing teams to signal for intentional walks rather than having to deliver four balls—will be instituted. 
What is clear is that you won't be seeing any of these changes in MLB this season, if ever. Instituting any of these new rules would require negotiations with the MLBPA, and while the union has said all the right things about speeding up games, whether it will actually support something this drastic—and opposed by a good number of pitchers—is very much in question.

You'll hear massive crying from baseball purists that this will destroy the sport, and MLB games will continue to take three hours plus to watch, the main reason I don't really attend Reds games.  A 7:05 start time usually means you won't get out of Great American Ball Park before 10, if not later.  On a weeknight that's getting home at 11, and that's just too much for a lot of people to handle.  Knocking 45 minutes off that would cause attendance to increase, big time.

Of course, what clubs want is for people to spend three hours plus at the ball park for 82 home games, it means more concession sales the longer people are there.  It also means the city collects more parking fees, so it's not like individual teams are tripping over themselves to shorten games.

We'll see if the players' union gets on board with it.  I think it's a great idea.  I also think that that's why it'll never happen.

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