A Changing Game

The implementation of a pitch clock in the MLB is inevitable, which is bad news for pitchers.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Janice Tjan

It’s no secret that baseball is losing popularity with the younger generations. Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred and top executives are doing everything in their power to reverse this.

According to Sports Illustrated, the average 2017 MLB game took an average of three hours and five minutes, a length of time that seems to be deterring fans from coming to see games. And while an increase in home runs seems to draw larger crowds, Manfred is discussing more drastic measures to speed up the game, from lowering the mound to allowing managers pick which hitters can bat in the last inning.

Though the latter is far from feasible, one idea that has been gaining traction is a pitch clock, which is a necessary evil in this consumer-driven market where teams and the league need their steady stream of revenue. What a clock would do is give a pitcher 20 seconds to come set on the rubber and be ready to throw his next pitch. If not, the batter would be awarded a ball.

This has already been implemented in the minor leagues since 2014 with great success in speeding up the game. All leagues that used pitch clocks saw drops in average game length, easily clearing the three-hour game time the MLB is aiming for.

While this change might please the crowd, it is the last thing a pitcher would want. Regardless of a 20 second rule, most pitchers do usually remain under the time limit, but its addition creates another factor the pitcher has to deal with. Baseball is a series of one-on-one, or pitcher vs hitter, battles. Each batter poses a new challenge. Hitters are all about timing, and pitchers try to disrupt their timing. Thinking about what pitch to throw to a batter, what situation it is, if there are runners on base (and what to do then), whatever the coach is screaming at you from the dugout, plus what happens if the ball is hit to you, is enough. These are all thoughts that must be taken into consideration before a pitcher even takes the mound. A clock counting down is the last thing a pitcher wants to have to think about.

This summer, I was at a showcase, which was an event designed to give aspiring high school players a chance to play in front of college coaches. Before the scrimmage, the coach for one of the schools in attendance was discussing strategy with the pitchers. He explained that before each game, he always tells his pitchers to find an inanimate object in the stadium or field. It could be a flag, a light on the sidewalk, or a random window on the building across the street. Anything. And every time a pitcher feels the game speeding up too much and he begins to rush, he should find this spot and hone in on it. This refocuses his mind and calms him down. It may seem weird, but I’ve used it ever since, and it does help me prepare for the next at-bat, especially right after someone ropes an extra-base hit off me.

When a pitch clock is added, this strategy becomes irrelevant. I wouldn’t have time to go through my whole routine after muttering curses to myself, stomping around, and finally finding my focus point before returning to the mound. In the major leagues, this is only amplified. Some pitchers, such as Chris Sale, like to work quickly, but others like newly signed Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish and 2017 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer are well over the 20-second mark on average and need to take time to revamp for the next batter. It all depends on the pitcher and the type of outing he is having. At his worst, every pitch is a struggle. In these sorts of outings, much more time is needed to forget about all that happened before. A pitch clock limits all of this, potentially hindering pitchers’ performances.

When it is all said and done though, the MLB is a business. And despite the fact that the MLB continues to see a rise in revenue (last year’s broke $10 billion, the highest ever), baseball will have to appeal to the youth. A casual fan would much rather see a 13-7 slugfest filled with runs rather than the 1-0 victory where both starting pitchers had beautiful outings. Similarly, a casual fan would much rather see a two and a half hour game instead of a closely contested, hard fought, three and a half hour victory. A pitch clock is an extension of this.

Baseball is changing. This new generation of ballplayers throws hard, hits even harder, and plays with flash and emotion. Exemplified by the likes of Bryce Harper and his polarizing demeanor and Yasiel Puig and his antics on the field along with countless others, the culture of the sport is undergoing a major shift, which will ideally increase its popularity. Though with it comes a change in the sport itself, for better or for worse.