SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: What will a pitch clock look like at the MLB level?

Mar 9, 2022, 12:23 PM

Mariners Logan Gilbert...

Logan Gilbert of the Seattle Mariners pitches in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at T-Mobile Park. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Pace of play has been a top issue MLB has looked to address for years with time of game last season hitting a record average of 3 hours 10 minutes despite seeing the fewest hits per game – 2020 excluded – since 1968. In their latest proposal, the MLBPA agreed to grant the league the ability to institute three on-field changes beginning in 2023, one of which was a pitch clock.

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The pitch clock has been making its way toward MLB ever since its introduction in the Arizona Fall League in 2014. Last season the pitch clock and other rules designed to speed up the game were used at the Low-A level with the result being nearly 20 minutes shaved off game times. What would this look like at the big league level?

Late last season on the Mariners Pregame Show, we had Keaton Gillogly, broadcaster for the Mariners Low-A affiliate Modesto Nuts join to give us his observations on the rule after seeing in action for a full season. Gillogly admitted there was an adjustment period for the pitchers with the first week of the experiment being particularly difficult.

“It’s fast,” he said. “The first game, those pitchers got so sped up. It completely threw everyone off. It took a little while but now you really don’t think about it much.”

The clock in the minors allowed pitchers 17 seconds with runners on, 15 seconds with the bases empty. ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reports that MLB is looking at a slight tweak of those numbers moving forward: 14 seconds with the bases empty and 19 seconds with runners on. In the minors, it was not just up to the pitchers to keep the game moving, hitters played a role too as they were required to be “alert” to the pitcher with 8 seconds to go. If the umpire determined the hitter was not ready in a timely matter, an auto strike was issued.

“It was a little bit of a drawback,” said Gillogly of what essentially was a “feel” call for the umpires. “When you have a rule that you are kind of selectively enforcing, that really opens up a pretty gnarly can of worms.”

Gillogly said that there weren’t a ton of auto strikes called but a non call against a hitter who was not alert until the 5-second mark who then drove in the go ahead run stood out in particular.

Ultimately, Gillogly saw the pitch clock take the dictating of tempo out of pitcher’s hands with the ability to slow the game down if things aren’t going well no longer an option. He noted that the clock alone wasn’t responsible for the 20 minutes taken off the time of game. Hitters were restricted to calling just one time out per plate appearance and then the big difference-maker which the MLBPA has not agreed to, pitchers were allowed just two stepoffs or pickoffs per plate appearance with a balk called if the out is not recorded on a third.

“One of the things it has done is increase stolen bases,” Gillogly noted. “In a lot of ways this has been a silver bullet. We are getting more stolen bases, you have to be more aware and it is putting more of the game in player’s hands. You have to be prepared. There’s not the time to just call time and run over everything. There’s not the unlimited time outs.”

While the focus has been on the minutes shaved off time of game it is important to not overlook the real culprit, inactivity during the game. The pitch clock alone will not solve all problems but it is a step. And the hope? There still will be three hour games but they shouldn’t be of the 1-0 variety.

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Drayer: What will a pitch clock look like at the MLB level?