Pitch clock, lim­its on mound vis­its loom­ing for MLB in 2018

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Count CC Sa­bathia as a fan who wants to speed up baseball games. When the six-time All-Star tunes in at home, he quickly changes the chan­nel. “It’s slow. It’s bor­ing,” the New York Yankees pitcher said. “Man, it’s so hard to watch if you have no in­ter­est in it.”

The av­er­age time of a nine-in­ning game this sea­son is a record 3 hours, 5 min­utes - up from an even 3 hours last year and 2:56 in 2015. Man­age­ment pro­posed three changes last off­sea­son the union didn’t ac­cept, and MLB has the right to start them next year with­out player ap­proval: re­strict­ing catch­ers to one trip to the mound per pitcher each in­ning, em­ploy­ing a 20-second pitch clock and rais­ing the bot­tom of the strike zone from just be­neath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap.

Union head Tony Clark has said in­for­ma­tion was be­ing gath­ered from play­ers and he ex­pects to dis­cuss the pro­pos­als with man­age­ment this sum­mer. “I don’t like the fact of some­body else telling me when I can go out and when I can’t go out, but I un­der­stand the point,” said Wash­ing­ton catcher Matt Wi­eters, a four-time All-Star. “There ac­tu­ally is an ad­van­tage to catch­ers and pitch­ers who can get on the same page with­out hav­ing to take the mound visit. So I like that side of it, of both peo­ple will have to put their home­work in as op­posed to one kind of walk­ing the other one through the game.”

The 20-second clock is now in its third sea­son in the high mi­nors. It would re­set when a pitcher steps off un­der MLB’s pro­posal last off­sea­son, but now the league is con­sid­er­ing ask­ing that it merely stop and re­sume. If a pitch isn’t thrown within 20 sec­onds, a ball would be called. If the hit­ter isn’t in the bat­ter’s box with 5 sec­onds re­main­ing, a strike would be called.

Catch­ers head to the mound for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons: dis­cussing what pitch to throw, giv­ing a pitcher a breather dur­ing a dif­fi­cult in­ning or switch­ing sig­nals in an era where many are para­noid about op­po­nents scru­ti­niz­ing high-def­i­ni­tion video to steal signs.

“There are some times we watch, we’re like, man, they just talk. Es­pe­cially when it’s hap­pen­ing mul­ti­ple times dur­ing an at-bat,” said New York Mets out­fielder Cur­tis Gran­der­son, a three-time All-Star.

Los An­ge­les Angels man­ager Mike Scios­cia, a two-time All-Star catcher for the Dodgers, thinks the mound con­fer­ences can be vi­tal. “In some games, the catcher doesn’t even go out there. But when it’s needed, some­times you’re out there twice in a sit­u­a­tion be­cause it’s go­ing to help the ex­e­cu­tion and the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process that a pitcher/catcher go through,” he said, “I don’t think any­one abuses it . ... If you have to go out there and change your signs in a key sit­u­a­tion, you should be able to do that.” San Fran­cisco’s Buster Posey, a five­time All-Star who starts at catcher for the NL on Tues­day in Mi­ami, said his mound trips de­pend on the in­di­vid­ual. “There might be more later in the game where you’re in a cru­cial spot of maybe you have a young pitcher on the mound and you need to give him some re­as­sur­ance or strate­gize a lit­tle bit more,” he said. “Some­times I’ll run out and make sure we’re on the same page with the sig­nals if the run­ner gets on second. I’ll usu­ally do that and be back at the plate be­fore the bat­ter’s even ready. So I wouldn’t even con­sider that a trip.”

Detroit’s Daniel Nor­ris is the slow­est­paced in the ma­jors among qual­i­fied starters, av­er­ag­ing 27 sec­onds be­tween pitches, ac­cord­ing to Fan­graphs. Tampa Bay’s Alex Cobb is second at 26.6, fol­lowed by Kansas City’s Ja­son Ham­mel and Philadel­phia’s Jeremy Hel­lick­son at 26.5 each.

Kansas City’s Ja­son Var­gas is the best at 19.8 sec­onds, with Michael Wacha (20.0) and Car­los Martinez (20.2) of St. Louis just be­hind. “If you talk about like 20 sec­onds to re­lease the ball or some­thing, I don’t like that,” Cobb said. “There’s so much that goes on, think­ing as a pitcher. It takes time to weigh your op­tions.” Count­down clocks were in­stalled in big league sta­di­ums af­ter Rob Man­fred be­came com­mis­sioner in 2015, tick­ing down 2:25 be­tween in­nings (2:45 for na­tion­ally tele­vised games). Hit­ters were re­quired to keep at least one foot in the bat­ter’s box, with sev­eral ex­cep­tions.

The 20-second pitch clocks were im­ple­mented at Triple-A and Dou­ble-A, where agree­ment with the play­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion is not needed. The leagues with the clocks cut 12 min­utes from their av­er­age game time from 2014 to 2015, dou­ble the 6-minute over­all drop in the mi­nors. But times have crept back up. Af­ter drop­ping from 2:56 in 2014 to 2:40 in the In­ter­na­tional League in the first year, the av­er­age rose to 2:42 last year and 2:49 this sea­son. The Pa­cific Coast League fell from 2:58 in 2014 to 2:45, then rose to 2:48 and 2:53.

Part of the rise may be at­trib­ut­able to an in­creased num­ber of pitches - and pitch­ers. In the ma­jor leagues, teams have added hard-throw­ing re­liev­ers and sub­tracted bench play­ers. Teams com­bined to use 8.30 pitch­ers per game last year, up from 7.26 in 2002. This year’s av­er­age is 8.21 - and it climbs dur­ing the second half, es­pe­cially af­ter ac­tive ros­ters ex­pand from 25 to 40 on Sept. 1.

Sa­bathia re­mem­bered how frus­trated he got when he switched to a Red Sox game on tele­vi­sion this year. “I was watch­ing be­tween a com­mer­cial break of a basketball game,” he said, “and I only saw two pitches.” Oth­ers think no tin­ker­ing is needed.

“The rhetoric needs to change from, ‘How do you speed the game up?’ to ‘Let’s just go back to en­joy­ing the game for what it is,’” San Fran­cisco pitcher Jeff Sa­mardz­ija said. “If we can cut out a lit­tle bit of the com­mer­cial break, then so be it. Put some ads on the score­board on the TV in the top left cor­ner, cut a minute out from com­mer­cials and I think we’ll be all right. But other than that, just buy an­other beer and en­joy the game.”

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