More Pace of Play Ponderings (UPDATE)

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Ever since Chris Bosio got his surgeries, it takes nearly all of the 30 second mound conference clock for him to even get to the mound…

This is more than just an excuse to post a silly gif, and more of a segue into the continuing struggle between Major League Baseball and the Players Union on pace of play issues.  Ken Rosenthal alluded to this earlier in his tidbits article:

Both sides are open to revising the CBA to incorporate the [roster] adjustments, sources said. The changes, though, likely would occur only in conjunction with the implementation of pace-of-play initiatives. The 26th man for most clubs likely would be a reliever, raising the possibility of additional pitching changes that might lengthen games.

In context, Rosenthal is speaking of the idea to have 26 men on the roster (which would obviously mean one more job at the highest level making at least league minimum), while September roster expansion would be limited to 28.  As is usually the case with these negotiations, if the players want something, the league is going to want something in trade.

That something in trade happens to involve pace of play, which Commissioner Rob Manfred has been trumpeting since almost the day he took the job.  MLB even has a quick pace of game page with the six major experiments they tried in Arizona Fall League to shave time off the game.  The pitch clock hasn’t come to MLB yet, but there is definitely an effort to keep time constraints on various game items, such as pitching conferences, time between innings, and the amount of time a manager is allowed to challenge a call.  At Wrigley Field, you can see a new countdown timer at the center field scoreboard that lights up during these events.

I believe players like the lull between innings, and even pitches or plays, to catch their breath and gear up for the next play.  We already see a phenomenon where pitchers, particularly relief pitchers, seem to be taking extra time in order to throw harder:

Despite consternation from the commissioner and rule changes to speed up the game, baseball has never been slower than it is right now.1 Even in the short time since last season, the average delay between pitches has jumped a full second. It’s all part of a decadelong trend toward more sluggish play, and there’s an alarming reason baseball’s pace problem is likely to get even worse going forward: Slowing down helps pitchers throw faster.

There is already language within the unaltered rulebook (even before pace of play became part of our everyday lexicon) to quicken the pace of both pitcher and batter.  A pitcher, for example, is supposed to deliver a pitch within 20 seconds of receiving the ball from the catcher.  This time constraint obviously goes away when there are men on base.  But all those seconds eventually add up to minutes, and especially if we’re dealing with super slow pitchers (*cough cough* Pedro Baez *cough*), you can see how fans might get agitated and potentially disinterested.  Baseball is one of those games where you can relax in between pitches, but even us hardcore fans have our limits.  Then again, it makes sense for guys who play up to 162 games a year (or pitch 100+ innings, if they’re a long reliever) to take a breather to preserve their greatest asset.

In high school, they already use a limit of three mound conferences per game.  The umpires also keep moving the game along, probably due to the fact that the early season is at the mercy of the sun going down.  Warm up tosses are also trimmed down to five per inning for a pitcher who continues pitching from the previous frame.  I’ve often wondered if a relief pitcher can come into the game already warmed up, almost as quickly as pinch-hitters come up to bat.  Umpires can also enforce the stay-in-the-box rule.

Early in the season, Grant Brisbee compared a game from 1984 to a game from 2014:

Based on one unscientific deep dive into a pair of similar games, though, the biggest problem with the pace of play is, well, the pace of play. Pitchers don’t get rid of the ball like they used to. Hitters aren’t expecting them to get rid of the ball like they used to. It adds a couple minutes to every half-inning, which adds close to a half-hour.

So we can probably conclude that a pitch clock would help cut the 3+ hour game time back down to two-and-a-half.  As of me writing this, Jason Heyward had just smacked a run-scoring double in the bottom of the seventh with the Cubs leading 6-2.  The game was nearing the two-and-a-half hour mark at that time.  I did like the Cubs scoring so many runs, and it was fun to see the action in the seventh inning, so it’s hard to blame inaction for the game being so long.  I think if MLB found a way to increase the amount of action, we wouldn’t complain so much about the natural lulls in the action.  Never-ending innings because your favorite team is scoring at will definitely help.

UPDATE 6/8 11:20 AM: Buster Olney has an article suggesting that changes are on the way

The preference on both sides is for a negotiated solution — a common ground found through conversation and an exchange of ideas. Manfred spoke about this in March, about how he wants to have more dialogue from the players, more input on how to improve the pace of games. But some players recognize that one way or another, rule changes are coming. One player told teammates recently that they better get used to the idea of a pitch clock “because it’s inevitable.”

I think if players are already used to it starting from the minor league level, we won’t notice too much of a change.  The game will look the same, it’ll just breeze by a bit faster.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the action continues.

 

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About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

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