MLB introduces 20-minute pitch clock that cuts down on minor league games and scores nearly the same; stage set for MLB’s 2023 debut

Implementing a strict pitch clock throughout Minor League Baseball has cut 20 minutes off game times. This dramatically speeds up the pace and doesn't have any effect on scoring. It also sets the stage for Major League Baseball to introduce a clock in 2023.

Over the first 132 games of the minor league, there was a 14 second clock with no bases and an 18 second clock with runners on. There were also penalties for pitchers or hitters that ran afoul. The game average time was 2 hours and 39 minutes. A control set of 335 games was run without the clock to start the season. Games lasted on average 2 hours, 59 mins — roughly the same average time as the 5,000 non-clock games in 2021.

Over a three-day period, more than one third of minor league games ended in under two hours, 30 minutes. This includes one game that was completed in one hour, 59 mins, and one that was completed in one hour, 45 minutes. Nearly three times as many games in 2021 were played within the 2:30-2:40 range. Only 15% exceeded three hours, as opposed to 52% who played games without a timer last season.

The scoring was basically flat. The non-clock set had 5.13 runs and 16.1 hit per game, while the clock games had 5.11 runs and 15.9 hits.

Henry Davis, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft said that it seemed to accomplish exactly what MLB wants the sport to look like over the next few years. Henry Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in 2021's draft, was a catcher with The Pittsburgh Pirates‘ High-A affiliate. “It has been the most enjoyable I have ever had playing, other than playing in the College World Series and unique games.”

MLB has been experimenting with pitch clocks for nearly a decade to discover the secret sauce that will speed up games, increase pace of play, and not significantly alter the run-scoring environment. MLB might have found the right balance with a quicker pitch timer, a limit to the number of times a pitcher may step off, and penalties for pitchers and hitters. These changes will be implemented in major league stadiums next year and should address the 3 hours, 11 minute average game times. MLB games currently run at 3 hours, 10 mins in 2022. However, that number will rise as the weather warms and scores increase.

The new collective bargaining agreement gives MLB the power to unilaterally adopt new rules, with a 45-day notice. The league had to notify the MLB Players Association one year prior to any on-field changes. Although there is no plan for a pitch clock to be implemented in the major leagues by 2022, the MLB will have a shorter window to collect data and create rules for the major leagues based on what it finds.

Morgan Sword is the MLB executive vice-president who oversees the changes to the rules.

Since the 2014 Arizona Fall League, when MLB introduced a pitch clock to the game, the 14- and 18 second timers have been the most aggressive. The umpires assessed 259 violations in the first 132 games. There were 73 automatic strikes for batters not available at the 9-second mark, and 186 automatic balls to pitchers who didn't deliver pitches before the clock expired.

Combining the clock with limitations on two pick-off throws and mound step-offs have also led to an 18% rise in stolen-base attempts. There were nearly three attempts per game when the timer was in place, compared with 2.51 for games without it. Last season, Major League teams averaged 1.2 attempted stolen bases per game, the lowest figure since 1964.

“At 2 seconds it's either pitch or grab. “Most guys want to pitch,” said Tampa Bay RaysRelief Phoenix SandersRecall that he was just called up from Triple-A and moved to the major leagues. “Hitters who can run are now able to do that. Although we're taught how to hold the ball, now we have to wait a while to do so. The hitters might be able to figure it out.

Double-A and Tripe-A now have 20-second pitch clocks. However, the drastic decrease in game time was caused by the restriction of pickoffs/step-offs in Low-A California League. MLB extended the rule to minor leagues over the winter as part of a series of changes that also included shift limitations (4 infielders on ground, 2 on each side for the second-base bag), 18-square inch bases (up from the usual 15 inches), and expanded use the automated ball/strike (robot umpires).

Combining a pitch-clock and step-off rule is undoubtedly the most important of all the changes to the rules. It has also caused the most consternation. Derek Holland, a long-time pitcher in the major leagues, is now with the Boston Red SoxTriple-A affiliate of the Yankees, said in a tweet thread that “we are trying too hard to do way to much to this game,” calling pitch clock “a catastrophe… and it will only continue to get worse.”

Dr. Mike Sonne is a biomechanist who specializes in muscle fatigue and worried that pitch clocks will lead to more pitcher injuries. The pitch clock was used in the California League last season. Pitching injuries were lower than at any other level. However, it is impossible to assess the impact of a pitch clock on pitcher health using raw injury data.

One thing was clear from the early returns this season: The game moved much faster than the non-clock-free sample. Batting averages, strikeout, home run and walk rates all remained stable. The average time between pitches in a plate appearance fell from 21.5 seconds down to 19.7. While umpires are mandated to increase speed, they also did so in other areas. The time between pitches dropped from 21.5 seconds to 19.7 seconds, and inning breaks were shortened from 2:39 to 2:27. 27 seconds. Pitching changes took 3 minutes, 16 seconds, to 3 minutes.

Josh Hejka, a reliefr for the team, said that it felt like the pace had increased. New York Mets‘ High-A affiliate Brooklyn. There is less time wasted and dilly-dallying. The hitters and pitchers have more urgency, and they are able to get back into the box and immediately return to the mound.

“There are some inconveniences. The pitch clock starts when you start your delivery, not when you are set. This is because it restricts their ability to move their holds on the mound. The inability to pick off is frustrating. We can feel frustrated by the details, but we need to learn to live with them or someone else will.

Joon Lee and Jesse Rogers from ESPN contributed to this report.

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