On the clock
New timer will affect more than just pitchers
SARASOTA, Fla. – As one of the game’s top prospects, Grayson Rodriguez will probably make his debut for the Baltimore Orioles pretty soon, and then the 23-year-old righthander can begin adjusting to the big leagues.
In one respect, he has a critical head start: Rodriguez has plenty of experience with the pitch clock that was tested in the minors and will now be used in the majors.
“I was a big fan of it,” he said. “Obviously, it speeds up the game. As a pitcher, it’s kind of what you want. Big league hitters take a long time to get to the plate. That drives me crazy, so this pitch clock kind of expediting the process, I like it a lot.”
Not everyone is as sanguine about the new timers – and whether you’re a pitcher, a catcher, a hitter or a baserunner, there’s no hiding from this rule change. Of all of baseball’s tweaks under Commissioner Rob Manfred, the pitch clock might be the one that affects the most players.
The clocks will be positioned behind the plate and beyond the outfield, where pitchers and hitters can easily see them. They’ll count down from 30 seconds between batters. Between pitches, it will be 15 seconds with nobody on and 20 if there’s a baserunner. The pitcher must start his delivery before the clock expires. After a pitch, the clock starts again when the pitcher has the ball back, the catcher and batter are in the circle around home plate, and play is otherwise ready to resume.
So efficient communication between the pitcher and catcher is important, because the clock is ticking. The batter has a responsibility, too. He needs to be in the box and alert to the pitcher with at least eight seconds on the clock.
Batters can call time once per plate appearance, stopping the countdown.
“You kind of have to shorten your routine up to the plate, while I guess cleaning out the box or talking to the umpire or the catcher,” said Atlanta outfielder Michael Harris II, last year’s National League Rookie of the Year. “I kind of went through it in Double-a, so I kind of know how that works and how it can speed up the game, but I guess it takes some getting used to.”
The goal is indeed to speed up play, specifically by limiting the parts of the game fans find particularly tedious.
According to Major League Baseball, the pitch timer reduced nine-inning games by a whopping 25 minutes last year in the minors, from 3 hours, 3 minutes in 2021 to 2:38. And other stats like runs per game, batting average and the rate of hit batters were essentially unchanged.
“The games were shortened, but not at the expense of game play,” said Joe Martinez, a former big league pitcher who is now MLB’S vice president for
on-field strategy. “What was really removed from the game was that dead time – pitchers walking around the mound, batters fixing their batting gloves, taking extra pitches in the bullpen, walking in from there.”
Games early in the season, in the second week, included an average of 1.73 violations. By week 24, that figure was down to 0.41. When surveyed, about 90% of both pitchers and position players said they adjusted to the pitch timer within about a month. If big leaguers get used to it that quickly, they should be ready around the end of spring training.
Still, there’s a difference between compliant minor leaguers and big league veterans who are used to a certain routine – and the amount of information available to major leaguers can make pitcher-batter showdowns a mental battle in addition to a physical one.
“In this game, it’s all about strategizing and really finding ways to get guys out. I think that’s the unique thing about baseball nowadays,” Pittsburgh