The pitch clock cut minor league games by 20 minutes while scoring nearly the same; staging for the introduction of MLB in 2023

The implementation of a strict pitch clock in Minor League Baseball cut playing times by 20 minutes, dramatically accelerating the pace without having a demonstrable effect on scoring, setting the stage for Major League Baseball set up a clock in the 2023 season.

In the first 132 minor league games that included a 14-second clock with empty bases, an 18-second clock with runners and penalties for pitchers and batters running into them, the average playing time was 2 hours and 39 minutes. In a control set of 335 games run without a clock to start the season, games lasted an average of 2 hours and 59 minutes – about the same average of 3 hours and 3 minutes in more than 5,000 games without a clock over the course of the season. season 2021. season.

More than a third of minor league games over the three-day sample with the clock ended in less than 2 hours 30 minutes, including one game that ended in 1 hour 59 minutes and another in 2 hours . Twenty-seven percent of games were in the 2:30 a.m. to 2:40 a.m. range, nearly three times the percentage in 2021. Only 15% of games exceeded three hours, compared to 52% of games last season without timer in place.

Scoring was mostly flat, with the non-clocked test set giving 5.13 runs and 16.1 hits per game while the clocked plays featured 5.11 runs and 15.9 hits.

“It seemed like it accomplished exactly what MLB wanted the game to look like in a few years,” said Henry Davis, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft and a catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ high-A branch. . “[Outside of] playing in the College World Series or one-off games, it’s the most fun game I’ve ever had.”

For nearly a decade, MLB has tinkered with pitch clocks in an effort to find the secret sauce to speed up games, quicken the pace of play, and not drastically alter the scoring environment. With a faster pitch clock, a limit on the number of times a pitcher can go down, and ball-striking penalties for batters and pitchers, MLB may have found the balance that will arrive in the stadiums of major leagues next season and will address average playing times which swelled last season to 3 hours, 11 minutes. So far in 2022, MLB games are at 3 hours and 10 minutes, although that number is expected to increase as the weather warms and the score increases.

In the new collective bargaining agreement, MLB was given the option to unilaterally implement new rules with 45 days notice. Previously, the league had to notify the MLB Players Association of on-field changes a year in advance. While there are no plans for a big league launch clock in 2022, the shorter window will allow MLB to collect data throughout the minor league season and shape the rules of the major leagues based on what she finds.

“We’re encouraged by the early results with the clock in place, both in terms of pace and pace of games as well as style of play,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president overseeing the changes. rules.

The 14- and 18-second clocks are the most aggressive since MLB first played with a pitch clock in the Arizona Fall League in 2014. In the first 132 games with it, the umpires rated 259 violations – 73 auto-hits for batters who weren’t ready when the clock reached the 9-second mark and 186 auto-balls for pitchers who failed to deliver pitches before the clock expired.

The combination of the clock and the limitations of two pick throws or mound steps – with a third prompting an automatic denial call – also caused an 18% increase in volley base efforts, with almost three attempts per game with the clock in place compared to 2.51 per game without a clock last season. Major league teams averaged 1.2 stolen base attempts per game last season, the lowest number since 1964.

“At 2 seconds, it’s either throw or choose. Most guys want to throw,” said Tampa Bay Rays reliever Phoenix Sanders, who was recently called up from Triple-A to the big leagues. “Hitters who can run start timing. We’re taught how to hold the ball, but now we only have a certain amount of time to hold it. As we move forward, the hitters can figure it out.”

While Triple-A and Double-A have had 20-second step clocks since 2018, limiting pick-offs and step-offs in the California low-A league last season resulted in the most dramatic decrease in times. Over the winter, MLB extended the rule to the minor leagues as part of a series of changes that also include shift limitations (four infielders on the dirt, two from each side of the second base bag) at all levels except Triple-A, 18-inch-square bases (instead of the standard 15-inches), and extensive use of the automated ball/hit system (robot umpires).

The combination of a pitch clock and step rules is clearly the most impactful rule change to date – and the one that has caused the most consternation. Longtime major league pitcher Derek Holland, now with Boston Red Sox affiliate Triple-A, said in a Twitter thread “we’re trying to do way too much for this game,” calling the clock a ” disaster…and it’s only getting worse.”

Dr. Mike Sonne, a biomechanist who specializes in muscle fatigue, wrote that he fears injuries to pitchers are increasing due to a pitch clock. In the California League, where the pitch clock was used last season, throwing injuries were lower than at all other levels, although it is impossible to determine the effect of a pitch clock. height on pitcher health strictly from raw injury data.

One thing from this year’s early returns was clear: As batting averages and home run, strikeout and walk rates have remained relatively stable, the game has clearly moved faster than the clockless sample this season. . Time between pitches in a plate appearance increased from 21.5 seconds to 19.7. Umpires, mandated to up the tempo, did so in other areas as well, with time between batters dropping from 43 seconds to 39.7, inning breaks being cut from 2 minutes, 39 seconds to 2 minutes, 27 seconds and the throw changes from 3 minutes, 16 seconds to 3 minutes.

“It looks like that pace has increased dramatically,” said Josh Hejka, a reliever for New York Mets high-A affiliate Brooklyn. “There’s less dithering and wasted time. There’s more urgency from hitters and pitchers, who get right back in the box and back on the mound and throw much faster.

“There are definitely some inconveniences. The launch clock lasts until you start your delivery and not when you get ready, as it limits their ability to vary their grips on the mound. There is some frustration with the lack of ability to pull back. There is some frustration with the intricacies, but we have to adapt to that or someone else will take our place who will.”

ESPN’s Jesse Rogers and Joon Lee contributed to this report.

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