Monday, August 27, 2018

Pitch Clock? Anatomy of a Pace-of-Play Auto-Strike

If the MLB Commissioner's allusion to a pitch clock were ever to find a home in Major League Baseball, it would likely take its cue from MiLB, which has employed such a timer for several seasons. Here's an example of an automatic strike and ejection due to precisely a pace-of-play argument that has evolved into the modern pitch clock violation and automatic strike/ball call.
Still image of the field at the 7-second mark.

The Play: With none out and none on in the top of the 4th inning of April 25, 2018's Bisons-Bulls game (Triple-A), Bisons batter Danny Espinosa stepped out of the box following a swinging strike to run the count to 1-2. Pursuant to Official Baseball Rule 5.04(b)(4), the Batter's Box Rule, a batter is permitted to exit the box after swinging and missing at a pitch, but must re-enter the box within the prescribed time limits. As the pitch clock began and expired thereafter without a pitch having been thrown, HP Umpire Richard Riley declared an automatic strike on batter Espinosa, resulting in a strikeout.

Diagram of how MiLB starts its pitch clock.
The Pitch Clock Rule: In MiLB, the 15-second pitch clock with the bases empty (20 with runners aboard; the clock was lowered to 15-seconds with no runners in 2018) begins to count down when the pitcher is on the mound, catcher in the catcher's box, and the batter is within the dirt circle, whether or not the batter is in the batter's box. The following list indicates whether an automatic strike or automatic ball is awarded, and what the fielders'/batter's obligation is to avoid such a penalty:

7-Seconds: Batter in box & alert. Penalty: Auto-Strike.
0-Seconds: Pitcher begins motion. Penalty: Auto-Ball.

As illustrated, the rule requires the batter to first become alert to the pitcher before the pitcher is required to begin his motion; if all goes according to plan, the batter would have eight seconds from the time the clock starts to fulfill his obligation, which gives the pitcher the remaining seven seconds on the clock to begin the windup or motion to come set.
Related PostMinor League Baseball Issues 2018 Pace of Play Rules (3/14/18).

Video Analysis of Espinoza K: As illustrated by the image at the beginning of this article, Espinoza was well out of the batter's box at the seven-second mark while the pitcher was ready and engaged with the pitcher's plate. By MiLB protocol, this is an automatic strike.
Related Link: This happened in Reading when Altoona's Eric Wood took too long to hit (REA).
Related Link: As did Springfield's Alex Mejia, when he failed to get ready in time (SPR)

Related LinkConversely, Harrisburg pitcher Jaron Long walked a batter on just three thrown pitches when he took too long to throw a 3-2 pitch during a Senators game (HAR).

As a result of this and other pace-of-play initiatives at the minor league level, both Triple-A (PCL and IL) leagues dropped average game time by nearly 15-minutes from 2014 to 2015, as did Double-A's Southern League, to approximately 2:45 in length. The 2017 average time-of-game was about 2:49.

Is the pitch clock still fair game for MLB?
By contrast, MLB's average times have increased to an all-time high of 3:08 in 2017 (it was 3:00 in 2014), having first broken the three-hour mark in 2012. MLB's estimated time-between-pitches for 2017 was 23.8 seconds, which one will notice is 3.8 seconds longer than the 20-second "runners on" pitch clock in the minors, and 8.8 seconds longer than MiLB's 15-second "bases empty" clock. 2017's 23.8 was the highest (or slowest) pace since at least 2007.

Gil's Call: With Commissioner Rob Manfred previously referring to a possible override if the players were unable to fix the pace-of-play issue on their own, without a clock, could we be headed to a scenario Manfred may have envisioned all along: set a pace-of-pitch goal, anticipate that the players will fail to reach that goal, and institute the desired measures, having given the players a chance...not so much a chance to succeed, but a chance to "not fail"?
Related PostManfred Pleased, Deems Pace of Play a 'Multi-Year Effort' (3/13/18).
Related PostPlayers Reject Pace of Play Proposal, Override Probable (1/19/18).

Catricala takes an automatic strike.
Related: In 2013, we visited the case of RockHounds batter Vinnie Catricala's one-pitch strikeout and ejection care of HP Umpire Ron Teague, who invoked OBR 5.04(b)(4) in declaring automatic strikes two and three when Catricala refused to timely enter the batter's box ("If the batter refuses to take his position in the batter’s box during his time at bat, the umpire shall call a strike on the batter. The ball is dead, and no runners may advance. After the penalty, the batter may take his proper position and the regular ball and strike count shall continue. If the batter does not take his proper position before three strikes have been called, the batter shall be declared out"). This was not a pitch clock violation (2013), but nonetheless an example of an automatic strike penalty as the result of a player's violation of an existing Official Baseball Rule.
Related Post: Minor Teague Ball: The One Pitch Strikeout and Ejection (8/4/13).

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Espinoza takes too long between pitches and is called out on strikes (DUR)


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