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Pitch Please! Why the MLB pitch clock is inevitable

MLB pace of play

Baseball has been going through some big changes in recent years. The most notable one in recent memory was the replay review. The game needs to move into the future, so the change was important. Every other major sport has video review, so it was good to see the MLB catch up.

There have been some growing pains that have come with the replay however. The extra time in the game that comes from it is one of them. Game time is one of the biggest issues facing the game today other than substance abuse, which the league has done a good job of fazing out. Major league games are taking longer than ever, and there are a variety of reasons why that is. The best way to combat this problem at the moment, is instituting a pitch clock.

Why are games taking longer?

MLB Pitch Clock
MLB game time has steadily increased over time (SB Nation)

MLB games are longer than ever. Since 1950, the average game time has gone up 48 minutes from 2 hours and 21 minutes to 3 hours and 9 minutes. There are a variety of reasons for this as I mentioned earlier. There aren’t more innings in a game and teams aren’t scoring more runs. What has changed though is the number of pitching changes by each team.

In 1960, the average number of pitchers used in a game by each individual team was 2.45 according to baseball-reference.com. That number has shot up to 4.15 pitchers per team per game in 2016. Teams are using more pitchers in order to get the righty-lefty matchup favorable, and also because pitchers are wearing out their arms more easily. Having a specific pitcher for the 8th and 9th inning is also relatively new, so this is contributing to extra time.

The extra commercial breaks also come with the territory. With how commercialized sports are these days it is not hard for advertisers to make their mark in the game.

The biggest hindrance in the game though is the constant fidgeting by players. This contributes to more dead time in baseball than ever. In an article by nydailynews.com, Rob Manfred and Joe Torre talked about the dead time in baseball and how the MLB will approach it. They believe that it is not the game time that needs to be addressed but rather the fidgeting that goes on between the batter and pitcher almost every at bat. Batters didn’t always re-adjust their gloves or step out of the batters box after every pitch.

Why MLB Needs to Address the Problem

According to Nielsen’s Year in sports media report, 50 percent of baseball viewers are 55 or older. The MLB needs to address this issue in order to have a promising future. Baseball will never have the same celebrity status in the mainstream as football or basketball, but the MLB can still compete for top dog between these leagues.

What scares me about the typical age of baseball viewers is what it will look like 30 years from now. The MLB needs to address this issue before it catches up to them. Many kids love playing baseball and following the sport and the big name players. The problem is having people being able to sit down and watch a game on television. We are in a time where people do not have the same attention span as they used to, so it is hard to have someone sit down and watch a three-hour baseball game, especially with all the dead time there is in between plays.

According to a study done by The Wall Street Journal, there are only 18 minutes of actual game play during a game. This stat probably won’t change with a pitch clock. It would not be bad if the game was 30 minutes shorter like it used to be though.

The length of baseball games does not personally bother me. I don’t mind sitting down and enjoying baseball and listening to fantastic stories the broadcasters have to tell. If the length is not addressed, baseball may lose popularity. If that happens, we might have fewer talents go out for the game and the quality of play might ultimately suffer. This wouldn’t be in the near future perhaps, but it is a possibility down the road in my eyes. Rob Manfred and Joe Torre seem to have a similar view of the situation as well.

What the league has done already

MLB Pitch Clock
The pitch clock is already being used in A ball (Grantland)

The MLB has already made some changes in order to address the issue. One is that batters have to keep one foot in the box in between pitches, another is the 30-second clock in between hitters.

Baseball also started using a 20-second pitch clock in the minor leagues already. There has not been a whole lot of news on how that has been going thus far, but it will factor into Manfred’s decision to implement it on the big league level.

Some players have said that they haven’t noticed the changes on the big league level too much. Alex Avila of the Tigers stated that he does not even think about the pace of play during the game, so the changes have not made a big impact of the quality of the game yet. However, that does not mean baseball has to proceed with caution when implementing pace of play rules.

Current popularity of the pitch clock

According to a study done by ESPN the Magazine in 2015, 60 percent of surveyed fans were not in favor of the pitch clock. As expected, the players aren’t especially fans either. 

MLB Pitch Clock
Adam Wainwright thinks a pitch clock could damage the quality of play (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Adam Wainwright spoke to The Guardian in 2015 of what he thinks of the idea.

“You have to be of sound mind, you have to step off and slow things down occasionally. Sometimes you have to move quickly, but as a pitcher you have to have the ability to slow the game down at those big moments – that’s just so key in the postseason. If you’re a young pitcher and you’re worrying about the pitch clock, you’re not worried about getting the hitter out.”

Many baseball purists weren’t fans of the replay system being introduced either. There was a lot of talk of the game being tainted because the human element was taken out of the game.

Thus far, replay has been a success though. It is true that it slows down the game a bit but at least they are getting the call right. Fans also didn’t stop watching because of the replay system, now it is accepted as part of the game.

What makes the pitch clock different though is that it can change what happens in the game drastically. As Wainwright stated, speed matters when delivering.

Many fans are afraid that the game will be fundamentally hurt if a clock is instituted. That is exactly what Manfred and Torre are trying to avoid.

Baseball players may have some trouble adjusting to a pitch clock. However, the game is ultimately a business and needs to do what is best for its future. There are going to be plenty of people that are opposed to such a change in baseball as well, but eventually it will become as much as a part of the game as anything else.

 

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