Advertisement

Punching a clock in baseball ain’t all that hard

Baseball’s new 20-second pitch clock has enough loopholes to keep the game moving faster without fundamentally changing the rules.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, shown earlier this month at an owners meeting in Orlando, wants to experiment with a 20-second pitch clock during spring training before deciding whether to pursue it for the 2019 regular season. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, shown earlier this month at an owners meeting in Orlando, wants to experiment with a 20-second pitch clock during spring training before deciding whether to pursue it for the 2019 regular season. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Published Feb. 25, 2019

PORT CHARLOTTE - First prediction regarding baseball’s 20-second pitch clock:

You will not hate it.

Second prediction regarding baseball’s 20-second pitch clock:

You will not notice it.

Baseball’s grand spring experiment is now a few days old and the reaction has been equal parts ho and hum. While there has been grumbling in some camps about messing with the integrity of the game, most of the pitchers in the Rays clubhouse seem unfazed by the concept.

“Time will tell,’’ said pitching coach Kyle Snyder, “but I don’t think it’s going to have a dramatic effect.’’

There are several reasons for that, not the least of which is this:

The time limit is more of a request than a demand.

If you read the fine print on the rule, you will notice that pitchers do not actually have to throw the ball within 20 seconds. A pitcher merely needs to begin his windup, or come to the set position, before the 20 seconds expires. And if the clock is nearing zero with runners on base, the pitcher simply needs to step off the rubber and the timer is reset.

In other words, there will be no spinning in Abner Doubleday’s crypt this summer.

“I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’m doing on the mound,’’ said Rays reliever Chaz Roe. “I don’t see it being a problem for me.’’

And yet, Roe is exactly the type of pitcher baseball is supposedly targeting. In fact, three Rays pitchers were among the 40 slowest relievers in 2018, according to statistics from Fangraphs.com.

Newly acquired righthander Emilio Pagan took an average of 28 seconds between pitches with Oakland last year while Jose Alvarado was at 27.1 seconds and Roe was at 26.4.

That may seem like a lot of time to shave off, but those numbers can be skewed by unusually long stretches with runners on base. And those same extended sequences could still exist under these rules if the pitcher steps off the rubber.

Otherwise, if a pitcher loses track of the time, the penalty for not getting a pitch off quickly enough is an automatic ball called on the hitter.

“Ninety percent of the time the clock won’t mean anything because the pitcher will be on the same page as the catcher and we’ll be working quick,’’ Pagan said. “But you have to be careful with that 10 percent because if they call a ball when you’re facing Mookie Betts, and the count just went from 1-0 to 2-0, that’s not a good situation to be in. If you end up hurting the team I could see it being a problem.

“But I think pitchers will adjust. Rules have changed before and guys have adjusted. I’m sure there are going to be loopholes guys will use.’’

The pitch clock has slowly been integrated into minor league baseball in recent years, which means a lot of younger pitchers have already been exposed to the idea. And maybe that’s why it was hardly an issue in Sunday’s game against the Yankees with so many 20-somethings on the mound.

Want more than just the box score?

Want more than just the box score?

Subscribe to our free Rays Report newsletter

Columnist John Romano will send the latest Rays insights and analysis to keep you updated weekly during the season.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

For the most part the clocks – which are set up in centerfield, on the backstop wall behind the plate and in front of the press box in Port Charlotte – rarely reached 10 seconds.

More often than not, the pitcher was on the rubber and waiting for hitters who had stepped out of the box to adjust their batting gloves, kick their cleats or tap the plate with their bats. Hitters can also be assessed strikes by the umpire if they dawdle too much.

“If we need to address it with certain pitchers, we can,’’ Snyder said. “There are different ways – and that’s not what we’re trying to do to get around it – but if you need a few extra seconds in the moment, we can figure out ways to get some extra time.

“But 20 seconds is more manageable than people think.’’

Major League Baseball has not yet announced whether it will institute the clock in the regular season, but it seems like a pretty good bet to show up sometime in the next year or two.

And that’s not a bad thing.

Under its current format the clock seems to be a smart compromise. It’s a gentle shove for pitchers and hitters who slow the game to a crawl, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the game’s rule.

“For me, it’s never been a problem,’’ said Sunday’s Rays starter Tyler Glasnow. “It’s kind of a reminder if you are cutting it close with the clock then you’re going too slow. It’s almost a benefit if you look at it that way.’’

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow at @romano_tbtimes.