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Elephant Rumblings: Pitch clock shortening minor league games

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MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Houston Astros Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Wednesday, Athletics Nation!

Professional baseball has been tinkering with ways to shorten games in recent years to appeal to the 21st Century attention span. Generally it is minor league baseball that serves as the test laboratory for experiments with pitch clocks and limitations on mound step-offs and pickoff attempts. Jeff Passan at ESPN reported yesterday that pitch clocks have been shaving about 20 minutes on average from MiLB games this spring, which may set the stage for implementation in the big leagues in 2023.

The minor league season began with a control set of 335 games without a pitch clock, and 132 games have been played since then with a 14-second clock during at-bats with the bases empty and an 18-second clock with runners on base. The result: the games with a pitch clock averaged 2 hours and 39 minutes, while the games without a pitch clock averaged 2 hours and 59 minutes. That difference could compensate for the time it takes fans to drive out of the parking lot after the game!

While games have been shortened by the pitch clock, hitting and scoring were essentially flat between the clocked games and the control set.

The new Collective Bargaining agreement permits MLB to unilaterally implement new rules with just 45 days notice to the MLBPA rather than a full year, so the league could introduce pitch clocks to begin the 2023 season.

Pitch clocks have both supporters and detractors among professional baseball players. Catcher Henry Davis, the top 2021 draft pick now in the Pittsburgh Pirates system, is firmly in the former camp, stating that thanks to the clock-quickened pace of play this spring, “[Outside of] playing in the College World Series or unique games, it has been the most fun I’ve ever had playing.”

On the other hand, major league veteran Derek Holland, who is now with the Boston Red Sox AAA affiliate, said the pitch clock is “a disaster ... and it will only get worse.” Pitchers’ concerns aren’t baseless, as there is evidence that pitch clocks, especially if combined with step-off limits, may result in more stolen base attempts.

So how does the AN community feel about speeding up the pace of game via pitch clocks? It certainly seems less heavy-handed and conspicuously obtrusive than ghost runners, though I do respect the art of pitching and appreciate different individual styles of play. But mostly, I like pitchers who work fast, and pitch clocks will force an evolution in that direction. Do you agree? Share your take on pitch clocks in the comments below!

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