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Clocking In: The Continued Dilemma with Pace of Play in the MLB

Ryan Salvaggio ‘20

Staff Writer

 

As another year of America’s Pastime comes to a close, the heads of Major League Baseball will one again come together to discuss something that’s been plaguing the sport for almost a decade: pace of play. Since the start of 2012, the MLB has had a dilemma with the average runtimes of their games with no average time of a 9-inning game being under three hours since 2015 (2:56) and no average time of game (extra innings included) being under three hours since 2011 (2:56), according to baseball reference’s Year-by-Year Averages and Total statistics.

With this in mind, what can be done to try and speed up the game? Some strides have been made from rules changes to times of commercials between innings, but one glaring omission is still being considered: a pitch clock. The idea of a pitch clock has split the baseball community in two in terms of whether it can or will work.

“I do like the idea of a clock,” said Merrimack College Club Baseball pitcher Adam Chanley when asked about the idea of adding a clock. “But the problem is what is the punishment for going past time? It can’t be a free ball, that’s way too strict!”

“It’s hard to speed up baseball, and personally, if you don’t like baseball to begin with, speeding the game up a couple of minutes won’t do much justice.”

Deciding on a punishment for exceeding the clock’s time is one of the main dilemmas the heads of the MLB are also dealing with. “The problem is what is the punishment for going past time? It can’t be a free ball, that’s way too strict,” Chanley adds. Even though the rules are there, such as keeping one foot in the batters box at all time and limited mound visits by coaches and catchers, they are not enforced strictly enough, and therefore the time of game isn’t affected all that much.

The MiLB, specifically Triple-A and Double-A, changed up their rules in 2015 with the inclusion of a 20-second pitch clock to the tune of mixed results. In the first year of the pitch clock, the average time of game in the minors “dropped from two hours forty-nine minutes in 2014 to 2:43 in 2015, but then rose to 2:45 in 2016 before dropping again to 2:29 last year,” according to The Associated Press. Even though the results are mixed, there are indications that the inclusion of a pitch clock did speed up the game. However, the idea of bringing it to a Major League level has brought mixed beliefs among players and fans.

Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale has acknowledged the fact that “players, fans, and umpires don’t want to be at games for three and a half hours” and that he is a “fan” of the proposed idea, but does not want to speak for everyone” because Sale is one of the faster working pitchers in the league, according to MLB.com.

These beliefs are echoed by fans, especially those of the casual variety. Merrimack student Mike Cratty says “It’s tough to stay consistently invested for such a long period of time for some people. I do enjoy the sport quite a bit, but I still find myself bored out of my mind sometimes during the games — it’s just so frustrating which makes me all in for the idea of a pitch clock.”

Even though there are plenty of supporters for the idea of adding in a pitch clock, there are still plenty who are against such an idea. Two players who have taken a stance on not wanting the clock are Indians pitcher Andrew Miller and Dodgers second baseman Brian Dozier. Miller, like most players, agrees that the game has gotten slow. However, Miller’s main problem comes with not only the idea of the clock, which he points out he isn’t a fan of, but how the league “gets there,” referring to his comments on tightening up the game and making it shorter.

Dozier said in an interview with The Star Tribune that he is “for speeding the game up,” but believes that adding a clock could “damage the integrity of the game and change the game completely.” He even goes as far as to paint a hypothetical situation for which having a clock could ruin the game: “Say it’s the bottom of the ninth, full count, bases loaded, and a guy needs to take a deep breathe or gets the hiccups or something — is that a walkoff? This is not the way to do it.”  

An interesting perspective to get on the whole pitch clock debate is of the players who have experienced it down in the minors. What stands out with a lot of the players who were interview, once again by Anthony Castrovince, is that a lot of them didn’t even notice the pitch clock once the season got underway. Rangers pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx who after pitching 11 seasons in the minors said that “I know some other guys struggled with it, but I didn’t even notice it. I just got up there, took my sign and didn’t worry about the [clock].” Cleveland Indians outfielder Greg Allen had similar thoughts on the clock where he found “the more time that you spend with these game clocks, it becomes more of a normal aspect of the game. You don’t pay attention to it too much.” Allen also went on to say that “the fact that guys are aware of the clock is what makes the biggest difference.”