MLB Pitch Clock and Pickoff Rules: A Successful Game Time Reduction
The introduction of the pitch clock and pickoff rules in Major League Baseball (MLB) has proven to be a resounding success in its first year. The league’s goal of reducing game time has been achieved, resulting in shorter and more engaging games for fans.
In the 2023 season, the average duration of a big league game was two hours and 42 minutes, a significant decrease of 24 minutes from 2022 and 29 minutes from 2021. This reduction in game time has been well-received by various stakeholders, including park workers, parents of young children, and season-ticket holders who prefer earlier game endings.
One of the notable impacts of the pitch clock and pickoff rules is the elimination of dead space between pitches. Previously, there were agonizing seconds of inactivity during games, particularly when pitchers like Craig Kimbrel or Giovanny Gallegos were on the mound. However, with the implementation of the pitch clock, these dull moments have been significantly reduced, resulting in a more dynamic and fast-paced viewing experience.
Player Adaptation and Rule Adjustments
Players quickly adapted to the pitch clock, as evident from the decreasing number of violations over time. In the initial months of the season, pitchers violated the timer approximately once every other game. However, by September, this ratio had improved to about one violation every six games. This adjustment demonstrates the players’ ability to manage the clock efficiently.
However, players also found ways to exploit the rules. Catchers, for example, realized that it was better to call a timeout with one second left on the clock rather than risk a violation or rushed delivery. Hitters also began utilizing timeouts more frequently, especially during two-strike counts. These strategic moves allowed players to navigate the pitch clock without significant disruptions to their performance.
Further Refinements to the Pitch Clock
MLB’s decision to tweak the pitch clock is driven by the observation that game durations increased as the season progressed. Games played in April and May averaged two hours and 37 minutes, while those in September were seven minutes longer on average. This trend indicates the need for further regulation to maintain consistent game lengths throughout the season.
Some players have expressed concerns that the accelerated tempo resulting from a tighter pitch clock may lead to more pitcher injuries. However, it is important to recognize that the current player development and deployment strategies favor high-intensity, short-duration performances. This approach, focused on max-effort, breaking ball-heavy relievers, places significant physical demands on pitchers and increases the risk of injuries.
While the pitch clock has successfully reduced game time, addressing the issue of frequent pitching changes and bullpen reliance presents a greater challenge. MLB would need to navigate the complexities of team incentives and individual pursuit of victory to effectively regulate this aspect of the game. Nevertheless, until a comprehensive solution is found, further reductions in the pitch clock duration can still contribute to a more streamlined viewing experience.
MLB Considers Small Change to Pitch Clock for 2024 Season
In an effort to further reduce game time, Major League Baseball (MLB) is considering a small adjustment to the pitch clock for the 2024 season. The current pitch clock counts down from 20 seconds with runners on base, but MLB wants to bring that number down to 18 seconds. Additionally, the proposal includes a reduction in mound visits from five per team to four.
The competition committee, which is mostly appointed by the league, will deliberate over these proposals and is expected to approve them. While the headline change may seem insignificant at just two seconds, it is part of MLB’s ongoing efforts to streamline the game and make it more efficient.
Critics argue that two seconds won’t make a significant difference, but proponents believe it will help maintain a faster pace of play. Pitchers are already required to deliver the ball within 15 seconds with the bases empty, so delivering within 18 seconds with baserunners shouldn’t be a major challenge, especially with the aid of PitchCom technology.
Furthermore, this change would only affect less than half of the pitches thrown in the majors next year. In the 2023 season, only 43.2% of pitches were thrown with men on base, the highest ratio since the introduction of Statcast. Therefore, the impact of this rule change is expected to be minimal.
The introduction of the pitch clock and other timing rules has already proven successful in reducing game time. The average big league game in 2023 lasted two hours and 42 minutes, down 24 minutes from the previous year and 29 minutes from 2021, which set a new all-time high for game duration.
Shorter game times have been well-received by fans, particularly those with young children or who prefer to be in bed before 10 PM. The pitch clock has also eliminated dead space between pitches, making the game more engaging and exciting.
While players initially had to adjust to the pitch clock, they quickly adapted to its requirements. Pitch timer violations decreased significantly as the season progressed, with players finding ways to manage the clock effectively. However, some players and coaches have raised concerns about the increased tempo leading to more pitcher injuries.
Proponents of a tighter pitch clock argue that the current style of play, with its focus on max-effort, one-inning relievers, contributes to pitcher injuries. The demand for high-intensity performances has led to a lack of endurance training and an increased reliance on bullpen arms. Addressing this issue would require significant changes to player development and deployment strategies.
MLB faces the challenge of balancing the desire for a faster game with the need to maintain player safety and the quality of the on-field product. While some aspects of the game, such as frequent pitching changes, contribute to longer game times, addressing these issues would require substantial changes and may not align with teams’ goals of winning.
In the meantime, MLB is determined to continue making incremental adjustments to the pitch clock. Shaving off another two seconds may seem insignificant, but it is part of the league’s ongoing efforts to improve the pace of play and enhance the overall fan experience.