right-hander Vince Velasquez said. “There’s tons of talent that’s spread around the league, and hitters are doing their homework just as much as we’re doing ours, but I think it takes a little bit more time to kind of strategize and find ways to incorporate those things.”
Velasquez doesn’t like the pitch clock, and his teammate, catcher Kevin Plawecki, has concerns about the punishments.
“I feel like when you start doing automatic strikes, automatic balls, automatic runners advancing to bases, automatic runs scoring possibly, just based off of a step off, or a pickoff, to me I think that just changes the integrity of the game,” Plawecki said.
When a pitcher fails to throw a pitch in time, the penalty is an automatic ball. When a batter isn’t ready in time, it’s an automatic strike. The clock would be easy to circumvent if the pitcher could
simply step off the rubber or throw a pickoff to stall for time. To eliminate that loophole, pitchers are only allowed two disengagements per plate appearance. Pickoff attempts count toward that limit.
The clock resets on a disengagement. After a pitcher has used his two disengagements, he can still attempt a pickoff, but it better be successful. If the baserunner gets back safely, a balk is assessed and the runner advances.
The restriction on pickoff throws serves two purposes. It limits a tedious aspect of the game – fans sure are quick to boo pickoff attempts – and it encourages aggressive baserunning in a sport that’s increasingly defined by home runs and strikeouts.
In the minor league test run, stolen base attempts went up from 2.23 per game in 2019 to 2.81 last year. The success rate improved from 68% to 78%.
“Any time they implement a new rule or something, you think you know what’s going to happen, and then people kind of weaponize it to their advantage,” said Philadelphia
shortstop Trea Turner, who has 230 career steals with an 85% success rate. “Hopefully it’s more stolen bases for everybody – just makes it more exciting.”
MLB has made other changes in recent years to reduce the time fans spend waiting – limiting mound visits, for example, or sending the batter to first base immediately on an intentional walk.
Those rules, however, affect a limited number of situations. Even the automatic runner on second base – a drastic invention, to be sure – only comes into play in extra innings. The pitch clock, on the other hand, will be in effect from start to finish every game.
The hope is that players can adjust well enough that obeying the clock becomes second nature. Perhaps some of the more skeptical voices will even start to appreciate it.
“Maybe I’ll like it, maybe it won’t be as big of a change as I think,” Plawecki said. “I don’t anticipate it really being a huge issue, but it’s something we’re all going to have to be obviously cognizant of.”