Donny Sands

An old school baseball guy looks at baseball’s new rules – the pitch clock

I’m that guy that never complains about how long a baseball game takes to be played. I am also that guy that truly looks at extra innings as “free baseball” and feels like he is getting away with something when there are more innings in a game. I am also an old school guy who is perfectly fine with the pitcher hitting because of the strategy that it adds at certain points of a game.

But hey, even us old school guys can be flexible. A reliever having to pitch to three batters? Okay, I see how that adds a little maneuvering. Universal DH? As a Phillies fan, having Bryce Harper stay in the lineup rather than on the IL works for me, so we can keep that one.

Covering a lot of minor league baseball, I get to see some of these experimental rules. With some, I am adapting. Others, no thank you.

First up is the pitch clock. Love it! Just as I find myself looking at the ticking play clock on the TV screen during NFL games, I catch myself glancing at the pitch clock. It’s not as much about shortening the length of games as it is about quickening the pace of play. Unless the batter has some semi-psychotic routine – I’m looking at you, Nomar Garciaparra – watching him stand there, perhaps adjust his crotch and straighten his batting helmet three times holds nothing for me. Seeing the pitcher check with his infielders four times to see who is covering second on a double-play, no intrigue.

In the minors, batters have no more than five seconds – 10 with runners on base – to get ready to hit. “Grip it and rip it!” Pitchers have 14 seconds – 19 with runners on base – to be releasing the ball. “Think long, thing wrong.” Between enforcing the pitch clock and cutting 30 seconds off the time between innings, minor league games are down by about 20 minutes per game this season and I am actually okay with that.

The IronPigs have had batters walk because they were awarded an auto-ball on a three-ball count. They have also had batters strike out because of an auto-strike with a two-strike count.

“I got to experience it in fall league (Arizona Fall League) and what I am seeing are that the reactions from both sides is pretty much what I saw when it was started in fall league and it is going to take some getting used to,” said Lehigh Valley manager Anthony Contreras. “We’ve had conversations about it working in the bullpen with a stopwatch and just seeing these guys are going to have to switch up their routines a little bit.”

Too bad it will never be implemented in the majors.

First, players will not want to adjust their routines at the plate or on the mound. Thing is though, that’s not the biggest reason why MLB will never implement the pitch clock. Tell a TV (or radio and now, even social media platforms for that matter) that has handed over a checkbook full of blank, signed checks to Major League Baseball to broadcast games that they now have up to nine-minutes less of advertising time to sell and step back and watch the fun begin.

So why have the rule? It goes back to what Contreras explained, that younger players in the minors will change their routines and get used to the new time constraints even if they are not implemented in the majors. As the young players reach the majors, the pace of play and game times will be reduced naturally because of the new habits that are being learned today during their minor league careers. As for cutting the time between innings, that will have to wait until broadcast contracts come up for renewal.

One more piece of input if baseball is serious about the pitch clock or even just for keeping it as a part of minor league baseball. As the system operates now, teams hire or appoint personnel to run the pitch clock at each particular ballpark. Having met a number of these people, I can tell you that they take the job seriously and do their best to not just be correct, but always consistent and fair. They speak to the umpiring crew prior to the game and have access to them during the game for any questions or to discuss a certain situation. Even with all of that, they are not officially umpires. They are team employees and I have heard of wide disparities in training from one team to another. Minor League Baseball – now under the watchful eye of Major League Baseball – has to move official umpires into the job as they have done at the MLB level for replays.

There have been instances where a player has been ejected arguing a pitch clock violation because of questions of just when and how precisely the clock was operated on a specific pitch. Having official umpires take over the job won’t eliminate that, but it will at least put the responsibility where it actually belongs.

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