Salk: New MLB rules a plus, but there’s a better way with pitch clock

Feb 28, 2023, 12:03 AM
Mariners Padres pitch clock...
A pitch clock counts down as Padres pitcher Jay Groome faces Mariners 3B Eugenio Suárez. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Let me start by admitting I struggle with change. I’m not the most adaptable person. And I love baseball – more than most people.

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More than anything else, it was my love for this game that drove me to pursue a career in sports media. I love watching it, listening to it, talking about it, reading about it, and just being around it. So I understand that I might not be the demo that is being targeted with some of the new MLB rules. I would probably still watch baseball if it averaged 30 minutes more per game.

But even I admit things needed to change. The game has gotten longer and (more importantly) less interesting. Analytics, sabermetrics and technology have identified so many ways to optimize teams’ chances to win that it has taken some of the action out of the game. Multiple strategies have been replaced by the one to rule them all. Recent breakthroughs in defensive positioning, spin rates and launch angles have left us with a game that consists too much of walks, strikeouts and home runs.

So I am on board with trying to change some rules to get back to the fun of yesteryear.

Spring training brings new MLB rules — pitch clocks, shift limits

I love banning the shift. At my first Mariners spring training game of the year, I saw two extra hits, one of which allowed a runner to advance from first to third. That runner scored a few minutes later. He would have been doubled up with the shift in effect.

I love the bigger bases and limiting pickoffs. While I’m not expecting the return of Rickey Henderson or Tim Raines, hopefully this will change the equation enough to bring more athleticism into play.

And I love the idea of games taking 30 minutes fewer to play. Heck, as a morning radio host who values every extra second of sleep, this is a dream come true. So I’m on board with the idea of the pitch clock.

But after watching the first few games, I’m sure not ready to say I like it in action.

Mariners who will be most impacted by new MLB rules

Baseball has existed forever without a clock. And because it involves such a complicated set of rules, sometimes it takes a little longer to process. As the games grow in importance in September and October, the tension before each pitch builds and the lack of clock allows you to focus on the battle.

So far, all I can focus on is the darn clock!

Yes, it’s new and I’ll probably adapt. Yes, these are meaningless spring games and it’ll work better in the regular season and eventually the postseason. And yes, I think something needed to be done about slowpokes taking advantage of the situation. They should not be able to run the entire Kentucky Derby between Zack Grienke pitches! And batters shouldn’t slow the game to a halt either, with both sides seemingly competing for camera time.

So how do we achieve the result we want (shorter games) without eliminating the flow of our great pastime? Amazingly, the answer may lie in the PGA Tour.

In 2020, the Tour changed its slow play rules to curb the worst offenders without affecting those who weren’t dragging down the game. They noticed that “the slowest 10 percent of players take an average of 63 seconds for shots around the greens, more than 25 seconds than that of their fastest 10 percent counterparts.”

I’d be willing to bet the same is true in baseball, where the slowest 10 percent create most of the problem. So why not adopt a strategy similar to golf? Put players on an observation list if they are consistently taking too long. If a pitcher is consistently over the 20-second limit, turn on the clock. If a batter is creating the problem consistently, then do the same for him.

I admit, there would be some problems with unintended consequences for the team opposite the offender. But those could be worked out, and it could shorten games without changing the fundamental principle of timelessness that has made baseball, well, timeless.

Or I suppose I could just get used to the new rules…

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