Baseball Needs a Pitch Clock. Change My Mind.

 

Baseball is going to die a rapid death if they don’t do something drastic about the pace of play.

I’ve had full season tickets to the Milwaukee Brewers for 25 seasons. Before I got married and had kids I always went to 70-plus games a season. I’d even take half-day vacation time to go to the weekday day games. My best season in 2001 I attended a total of 85 games (two pre-season, two road games, and all 81 home games), and I only left one game early, it was a weeknight that it went into extra innings and I was the ride for a friend who couldn’t stay any longer.

I’ve sat through to the end of 16-1 blow-out losses (“Hey, three or four grand slams, we’re right back in this one”). One of my favorite baseball memories is attending double-headers on consecutive days in July 1997 – in the first game, Steve Woodard made his major league debut against Roger Clemens, gave up a lead-off double to Otis Nixon, then proceeded to strike out the side, set a league record by striking out 11 (or was it 12?) in his debut, and won the game 1-0. In the second game of that doubleheader, the Brewers turned their first Triple play in something like 17 years.

So I take a backseat to no one claiming to be a fan of the game.

But it’s getting downright unwatchable. In 1982, the average time of a nine-inning MLB game was 2:35. In 2019 (so far), it’s 3:04.

Yes, there are more pitching changes (pitchers/game has increased from 2.62 to 4.27). But that’s not what appears to be driving the time difference.

On April 13, 1984, the Mets played the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The home team won, 11-2. Both teams combined to throw 270 pitches. Both teams combined to allow 27 baserunners, and 74 batters came to the plate. There was exactly one mid-inning pitching change.

On April 17, 2014, the Brewers played the Pirates at PNC Park. The home team won, 11-2. Both teams combined to throw 268 pitches. Both teams combined to allow 27 baserunners, and 75 batters came to the plate. There was exactly one mid-inning pitching change.

The game from 1984 lasted two hours and 31 minutes.

The game from 2014 lasted three hours and six minutes.

Our goal is to figure out where the extra 35 minutes came from.

Read the whole thing, but here’s the conclusion:

It took nine seconds longer for a pitcher to get rid of the ball in 2014.

In the 1984 game, there were 70 inaction pitches that were returned to the pitcher and thrown back to the plate within 15 seconds.

In the 2014 game, there were 10.

In the 1984 game, there were 32 balls, called strikes, or swinging strikes that took 20 seconds or more between pitches

In 2014, there were 87 balls, called strikes, or swinging strikes that took 20 seconds or more between pitches.

Baseball needs a pitch clock. And it needs to be an aggressive one. They also need to keep the batter in the box between pitches.

I like that baseball isn’t ruled by the clock. But there’s too much standing around doing nothing.

You take a nine-inning game and play it in two hours and 35 minutes, it’s a thing of beauty. You take the exact same game and stretch it out over an extra 30 minutes, it’s an unwatchable snooze-fest.

Baseball has taken some steps to speed play, but it hasn’t helped. The limit on mound visits is completely ineffectual. It’s been in place for two seasons, I can remember exactly one time when I’ve seen a team use them all (or even get down to one left).

Get the ball, throw the ball. That solves most of the problem.

Yes, Homeruns and strikeouts are up and lead to a lot of unexciting “action.” Yes, in a game last week I watched as the visiting pitcher, down 6-0 in the 8th inning, with two outs and the pitcher at-bat, threw over to 1st base five or six times in a row. Yes, the replay is a botched nightmare, and the umpires can’t call consistent balls and strikes.

None of that will matter if they can just get the game time back down to 2:45 or less.

As it is, I have a hard time getting my pre-teen kids to go to games with me. Baseball is losing a generation of fans. They don’t have much time to save the game.

Edit:  As usual, the commentary clarified my thoughts a bit. So allow me to adapt one of my later comments on this thread here in the main post: I don’t want a pitch clock. I want the batter to stay in the box, and I want the pitcher to get the ball and throw the ball. But for whatever reason, they seem disinclined in recent years to do so.

What I object to is taking three hours to play a game that should only take two and a half hours.

And I’m not talking “action.” I get that baseball is about the pauses, and the four foul balls on a 3-2 count. Just do it a little quicker.

There are 92 comments.

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  1. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    It’s the National Pastime! We have to keep it that way.

    • #1
  2. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    What about limiting the time between innings, and between the top and bottom of the innings?  If the game is televised, are there too many commercials?  Is the seventh inning stretch a tradition that no longer serves a purpose?

    I don’t watch baseball that much, but it does seem like there are too many pitching changes, batters calling time, or visits to the mound by the coaches or other players.

    I have the same problem with football games taking a long time, and they have a play clock!

    • #2
  3. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Stad (View Comment):
    What about limiting the time between innings, and between the top and bottom of the innings? If the game is televised, are there too many commercials?

    That’s addressed in the article I linked to:

    Commercials aren’t the primary villain. They don’t help the pace of the modern game, but I figured that was going to be the half-hour difference right there, and the conclusion would be simple. But the 1984 game had 33 minutes and 13 seconds of commercials, and the 2014 game had 42 minutes and 36 seconds. Considering the times of the respective games, the older game actually devoted a similar chunk of their broadcast to time away from the action.

    There’s a little bit of an asterisk here, though, as I’m defining “commercial” as the time that runs from the beginning of a commercial break to the first pitch of the next inning. If we’re talking about actual BUY GEICO, YOU MEATY ROBOTS time, the 1984 game featured 19 minutes and 17 seconds of actual ads, whereas the 2014 game had 28 minutes and 25 seconds.

    Here’s another asterisk: There was a mid-inning pitching change in both games, but only the 2014 game cut to a commercial. That’s right: for nearly three minutes in 1984, the cameras just hung around, watching a dude warm up, as announcers talked about nothing and the network threw money out the window. It was somewhere between maddening and refreshing. So if you want to count that as a 1984 commercial, the gap shrinks even more.

     

     

    • #3
  4. The Great Adventure! Inactive
    The Great Adventure!
    @TheGreatAdventure

    Watching baseball IS a slow death.

    • #4
  5. rgbact Inactive
    rgbact
    @romanblichar

    I think they do have some kind of clock for pitching. And they’ve made great progress on limiting at least the catchers mound visits, which were getting ridiculous. Baseball seems to be doing great (due to massive TV/internet exposure) …..despite everyone constantly saying it really really needs to change or die.

    Btw,  football games have plenty of time spent doing nothing….and 15 minute halftimes of nothing. And it fries your brain. Ask Andrew Luck.

    • #5
  6. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    When a new batter comes up, he needs to be ready to hit when the umpire points to the pitcher to start play.  If he’s not ready, too bad.  And after that, the pitcher can throw whenever he wants.  Doesn’t matter if the batter is ready.  The pitcher has the ball – he can throw it whenever he likes.  The batter has time to reset while the catcher throws the ball back to the pitcher.

    I would just do that first, and see what happens to the length of games.  I suspect that would fix most of it.  You could always add a pitch clock later, if necessary. 

    • #6
  7. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I have always been annoyed by batters stepping away from the plate. What is the reasoning behind that allowance? Tee ballers have better discipline.

    • #7
  8. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    It’s the National Pastime! We have to keep it that way.

    Let’s be honest: in practice, baseball ceded that title to football decades ago.  Check the Nielsen ratings.  Look at the role football plays in the high school and college experiences, the Homecoming Game, the archetypes of the star quarterback dating the popular cheerleader.  Super Bowl Sunday is a national holiday.

    • #8
  9. rgbact Inactive
    rgbact
    @romanblichar

    No hitter for Verlander!! In 2:30. Great game.

    • #9
  10. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Once they have robo-umpires calling balls and strikes, instead of a pitch clock you could have a shrinking strike zone: the longer the pitcher holds the ball, the smaller the strike zone gets.

    • #10
  11. DonG Coolidge
    DonG
    @DonG

    I am with you on the pitch clock.  7 seconds from the time the pitcher has the ball he has to throw to someone or it is a ball + balk with runners advancing.   pitchers don’t need to wait for batter to enter box.  the on deck, better hustle.

    • #11
  12. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    rgbact (View Comment):
    Baseball seems to be doing great (due to massive TV/internet exposure) …..despite everyone constantly saying it really really needs to change or die.

    Per game attendance peaked in 2007 at 32,696.  Last year was 28,659.  It’s currently slightly lower this year but you can’t just take September out of the numbers and compare.

    The World Series ratings are down dramatically over the past few decades, but so are television ratings generally. 

     

    It’s hard to find decent numbers on TV ratings for local broadcast rights.  I suppose it’s possible the in-person attendance is down because people are watching regular season games on TV instead, but I’d need to be convinced.

     

    • #12
  13. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    That’s addressed in the article I linked to

    Missed the link.  I wish we had a more definitive color for links . . .

    • #13
  14. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    rgbact (View Comment):
    Baseball seems to be doing great (due to massive TV/internet exposure) …..despite everyone constantly saying it really really needs to change or die.

    Per game attendance peaked in 2007 at 32,696. Last year was 28,659. It’s currently slightly lower this year but you can’t just take September out of the numbers and compare.

    The World Series ratings are down dramatically over the past few decades, but so are television ratings generally.

     

    It’s hard to find decent numbers on TV ratings for local broadcast rights. I suppose it’s possible the in-person attendance is down because people are watching regular season games on TV instead, but I’d need to be convinced.

     

    I posted a while back on going to a local minor league baseball game.  It was fun, and not terribly expensive.  I wonder how much cost is a factor for declining stadium attendance, or the hassle of having to get there and back.

    • #14
  15. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Stad (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    rgbact (View Comment):
    Baseball seems to be doing great (due to massive TV/internet exposure) …..despite everyone constantly saying it really really needs to change or die.

    Per game attendance peaked in 2007 at 32,696. Last year was 28,659. It’s currently slightly lower this year but you can’t just take September out of the numbers and compare.

    The World Series ratings are down dramatically over the past few decades, but so are television ratings generally.

     

    It’s hard to find decent numbers on TV ratings for local broadcast rights. I suppose it’s possible the in-person attendance is down because people are watching regular season games on TV instead, but I’d need to be convinced.

     

    I posted a while back on going to a local minor league baseball game. It was fun, and not terribly expensive. I wonder how much cost is a factor for declining stadium attendance, or the hassle of having to get there and back.

    When I first bought my full season tickets in 1996 at County Stadium, I paid something like $700 for two seats (Upper Box 2, row 1, just slightly down the third base side from home plate.)  That price was slightly subsidized by a consortium of business who were leading the charge to get Miller Park built.

    This year (and the past few), I paid just over $3800 for two seats for 81 games and an adjacent third seat for 20 games (Terrace Box 422 Row 1.  The 4th deck, directly behind home plate.  I’m about 4 feet off the line between the pitchers mound and home plate.)

    Everything about Miller Park is better than County Stadium except my seats – I’m much further away from the field than I was before. But the seats in the second deck that would be comparable* to what I had at County Stadium cost almost twice as much as what I’m paying now.  As it is, the only way I can justify keeping the tickets is that I sell of a bunch of games on Stubhub.  Most years I get back about 50% of my gross ticket expense over the course of the season (thank you Cubs fans and Saturday night games!).  And there are perks to being a season ticket holder, so I stick with it for now.  But it’s getting harder and harder to write that renewal check every fall.

     

    *I don’t care what deck I’m in, as long as I’m in the front row.  I can’t stand having people standing in front of me.  I’d rather be in the front row of the 4th deck than the third row of the 1st deck.

     

    • #15
  16. rgbact Inactive
    rgbact
    @romanblichar

    Looks like a 20 second pitch clock was implemented for 2019 spring training, but got shelved for a few years, due to the players union (evidently, they like being on the field more?). I don’t mind 3 hour games, although 2:45 seems more ideal. But, if the games are close and good…..don’t much care about 15 extra minutes. There are so many other crap sports/shows on TV that people watch. Seems silly to think people will flee baseball over 15 extra minutes..

    • #16
  17. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    rgbact (View Comment):

    Looks like a 20 second pitch clock was implemented for 2019 spring training, but got shelved for a few years, due to the players union (evidently, they like being on the field more?). I don’t mind 3 hour games, although 2:45 seems more ideal. But, if the games are close and good…..don’t much care about 15 extra minutes. There are so many other crap sports/shows on TV that people watch. Seems silly to think people will flee baseball over 15 extra minutes..

    I don’t mind a 3 hour game either.  Assuming there’s stuff going on that requires three hours to play.

    What I strenuously object to is taking 3 hours to play a game that should only take two and a half hours.

    And I’m not talking “action”.  I get that baseball is *about* the pauses, and the four foul balls on a 3-2 count.

    I’m talking about “get the ball, throw the ball”.  Not “get the ball, stand there for a few extra seconds, wait for the batter to adjust his batting glove (again), look in for the sign, get almost set, then the batter steps out, and we start the whole damn thing over again.”

    I don’t *want* a pitch clock.  I want the pitcher to get the ball and throw the ball.  But for whatever reason they no longer seem inclined to do that.

     

     

     

    • #17
  18. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I went to a AA game last weekend with my adult daughter.  It was the first baseball game I’d seen (TV or otherwise) in close to 40 years. We had pretty good seats just behind first base.  I was surprised by a couple of things.  First, I expected there to be about 500 people there.  There were thousands; and apparently a good time was had by all.  I enjoyed it, though it was a 3+ hour game.  Second, there were no real bullpens, so the pitchers just warmed up in the foul territory between the first base line and the fence.  Those guys throw hard!

    There was a clock that apparently started at 30 seconds both in center field and behind the batter as we looked down the first base line toward the plate.  I never could figure out what it was for.  It was used sometimes, and sometimes not.  At first I thought it was a pitch clock, but couldn’t correlate it to any activity consistently.

    • #18
  19. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Miffed White Male: Yes, Homeruns and strikeouts are up, and lead to a lot of unexciting “action”.

    To me, this is a bigger problem than pace of game.  I want more baserunners.  Runners lead to more interesting plays, such as steals, sacrifice flys, bunting to advance the runner, double plays, the rare but thrilling triple play, and the most exciting play in baseball: the close play at home plate.

    • #19
  20. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male: Yes, Homeruns and strikeouts are up, and lead to a lot of unexciting “action”.

    To me, this is a bigger problem than pace of game. I want more baserunners. Runners lead to more interesting plays, such as steals, sacrifice flys, bunting to advance the runner, double plays, the rare but thrilling triple play, and the most exciting play in baseball: the close play at home plate.

    The same guy who wrote the article I linked comparing the 1984 game and the 2014 game wrote this one last year:

    https://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2018/1/23/16923186/mlb-pitch-clock-proposal-pace-of-play

     

    After my article, Rob Arthur discovered something important at FiveThirtyEight about the extra time pitchers are taking between pitches: It makes a difference. The longer a pitcher takes, the harder he throws. The pitchers acted as their own control group, and it didn’t matter how fast the pitcher normally throws. Jamie Moyer probably would have increased his velocity with more rest between pitches. So would Aroldis Chapman.

    Pitch clocks are going to lead to slower fastballs, on average.

    Slower fastballs are going to lead to more contact, on average.

    More contact should lead to more chaos.

    • #20
  21. rgbact Inactive
    rgbact
    @romanblichar

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    rgbact (View Comment):
    Baseball seems to be doing great (due to massive TV/internet exposure) …..despite everyone constantly saying it really really needs to change or die.

    It’s hard to find decent numbers on TV ratings for local broadcast rights. I suppose it’s possible the in-person attendance is down because people are watching regular season games on TV instead, but I’d need to be convinced.

    Just anecdotal. I had season tickets 20 years ago and it was iffy on whether a local game would be televised. Now, I get all games in all markets televised, and the same is available thru the internet. But, I don’t go to many games anymore. So, I can see how attendance could suffer. Seems attendance doesn’t matter much anymore in the era of multi billion dollar TV contracts and universal internet access.

    MLB teams are keeping good pace with NFL teams in terms of value. And thats with a much stronger union to deal with.

    • #21
  22. DonG Coolidge
    DonG
    @DonG

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male: Yes, Homeruns and strikeouts are up, and lead to a lot of unexciting “action”.

    To me, this is a bigger problem than pace of game. I want more baserunners. Runners lead to more interesting plays, such as steals, sacrifice flys, bunting to advance the runner, double plays, the rare but thrilling triple play, and the most exciting play in baseball: the close play at home plate.

    Strategy used to matter.  It is the best part of sports.  Hit-and-run?  Steal?  Sac bunt?  Infield in?   now it is just swing hard.  nothing to anticipate. nothing to second guess. 

    • #22
  23. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    rgbact (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    rgbact (View Comment):
    Baseball seems to be doing great (due to massive TV/internet exposure) …..despite everyone constantly saying it really really needs to change or die.

    It’s hard to find decent numbers on TV ratings for local broadcast rights. I suppose it’s possible the in-person attendance is down because people are watching regular season games on TV instead, but I’d need to be convinced.

    Just anecdotal. I had season tickets 20 years ago and it was iffy on whether a local game would be televised. Now, I get all games in all markets televised, and the same is available thru the internet. But, I don’t go to many games anymore. So, I can see how attendance could suffer. Seems attendance doesn’t matter much anymore in the era of multi billion dollar TV contracts and universal internet access.

    MLB teams are keeping good pace with NFL teams in terms of value. And that’s with a much stronger union to deal with.

    mlb.com/mlb.at.bat blocks local market baseball game telecasts.  I can watch any game I want, except the team I follow.  How moronic is that?

    • #23
  24. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    DonG (View Comment):

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male: Yes, Homeruns and strikeouts are up, and lead to a lot of unexciting “action”.

    To me, this is a bigger problem than pace of game. I want more baserunners. Runners lead to more interesting plays, such as steals, sacrifice flys, bunting to advance the runner, double plays, the rare but thrilling triple play, and the most exciting play in baseball: the close play at home plate.

    Strategy used to matter. It is the best part of sports. Hit-and-run? Steal? Sac bunt? Infield in? now it is just swing hard. nothing to anticipate. nothing to second guess.

    Earl Weaver (it doesn’t get much more old school than that) said his favorite play was the three-run homer.

     

    • #24
  25. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    rgbact (View Comment):
    Baseball seems to be doing great (due to massive TV/internet exposure) …..despite everyone constantly saying it really really needs to change or die.

    Per game attendance peaked in 2007 at 32,696. Last year was 28,659. It’s currently slightly lower this year but you can’t just take September out of the numbers and compare.

    The World Series ratings are down dramatically over the past few decades, but so are television ratings generally.

     

    It’s hard to find decent numbers on TV ratings for local broadcast rights. I suppose it’s possible the in-person attendance is down because people are watching regular season games on TV instead, but I’d need to be convinced.

     

    What about streaming viewers? I have watched a couple dozen games on my phone this season. Living out of state I could never watch my hometown Twins until I bought the streaming package this year. So at least in my house, ratings are up. 

    • #25
  26. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    After my article, Rob Arthur discovered something important at FiveThirtyEight about the extra time pitchers are taking between pitches: It makes a difference. The longer a pitcher takes, the harder he throws.

    Fascinating!  If that’s true, then batters who call time and step out of the box in order to adjust their batting gloves, thus giving the pitcher more time to recharge his fastball, are idiots.

    • #26
  27. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    rgbact (View Comment):
    Seems attendance doesn’t matter much anymore in the era of multi billion dollar TV contracts and universal internet access.

    I suspect that’s largely true, but I wonder if it would be in the long-term best interest of the owners to lower ticket prices to the point where they can routinely fill their ballparks.  Selling twice as many tickets for half the price should roughly even out, and luring more fans to the park (especially young fans) would be an investment in the future audience for TV and streaming deals.

    • #27
  28. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    Earl Weaver (it doesn’t get much more old school than that) said his favorite play was the three-run homer.

    Yeah but to hit a 3-run homer you still need to get 2 guys on base first.  In today’s game you’re more likely to see three 1-run homers.

    • #28
  29. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    I don’t *want* a pitch clock. I want the pitcher to get the ball and throw the ball. But for whatever reason they no longer seem inclined to do that.

    I know what you mean, but abuses sometimes lead to solutions people don’t like.  Dean Smith and his Four Corner offense was a big factor in college basketball getting a shot clock.

    • #29
  30. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Stad (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    I don’t *want* a pitch clock. I want the pitcher to get the ball and throw the ball. But for whatever reason they no longer seem inclined to do that.

    I know what you mean, but abuses sometimes lead to solutions people don’t like. Dean Smith and his Four Corner offense was a big factor in college basketball getting a shot clock.

    When Ray Mears was the basketball coach at Tennessee, some games ended with scores like 7 to 5.

    • #30

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