Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Did An 11-Minute AB Just Justify MLB's Pitch Clock?

When Mets batter Luis Guillorme stepped to the plate against Cardinals pitcher Jordan Hicks over the weekend in Florida, he remained at-bat for over 11 minutes, walking after Hicks' 22nd pitch and an average of one pitch approximately every half-minute. Does that justify baseball's call for a pitch clock?

In 2014, Major League Baseball announced a set of experimental rules for that year's Arizona Fall League, including a pace-of-play minded provision entitled the 20-second rule. The concept was simple: all games played at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick would feature shot clocks, of sorts, that would begin when the pitcher would receive the ball or, under certain circumstances, after the umpire put the ball into play. If the pitcher failed to deliver the ball before the 20-second timer expired, the umpire would call an automatic ball and if the batter failed to remain in the box during the countdown, the pitcher could throw the ball for a called strike.

In the years since, MLB has tweaked its pitch clock with the goal of cutting down on time between pitches, toying with numbers ranging from 12-to-15-to-20 second pitch clocks.

How about that pitch clock?
That choice of 12 seconds with no runners on base is no accident: Official Baseball Rule 5.07(c) states, "When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call 'Ball.'"

Though the rule's purpose is to avoid unnecessary delays, enforcement comes with a price. In 2007, umpire Doug Eddings nearly ejected Indians Manager Eric Wedge for arguing a 12-second delay call made against pitcher Rafael Betancourt. In the end, the Wedge argument delay was much longer than 12 seconds.

Umpire supervisor Jim McKean said at the time, "It wastes more time if you call it than if you don't call it, because as soon as you call it you've got a full-scale argument...the clubs will complain."

And thus, MLB's goal of moving to a more automatic system via the pitch clock was born. With Guillorme's bases-empty, Spring Training at-bat having not one interval between pitches lasting less than 21 seconds (the high was 63 seconds), have pitch clocks inched closer to regular season reality?


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