Make baseball great again

I wrote here about the need for a clock in baseball — a clock that would limit the time pitchers can take between pitches. I suggested a 20 second clock.

The need for a clock arises from the ever-increasing amount of time it takes to complete a ball game. This season, the average major league game is taking 3 hours and 8 minutes to complete, the longest time in history. It’s 14 minutes longer than in 2010 and four minutes longer than last year.

The average time between pitches this year is 23.8 seconds, 2.3 seconds longer than a decade ago. I estimated that a 20 second clock would knock 10 to 15 minutes off the length of an average game.

I have since learned that the use of a 20 second clock in minor league baseball at the Triple A and Double A levels has reduced the length of games by 12 minutes on average. I have also learned that baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, who strikes me as a sensible fellow, is favorably disposed towards using a 20 second clock. The smart money seems to believe it’s coming soon.

But do pitchers really need 20 seconds between pitches? On reflection, I don’t think so.

On Saturday, I attended a minor league game between the Frederick Keys and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (this was Single A ball). I wanted to see the pitching matchup between Keegan Akin, the number 5 ranked prospect in the Baltimore Orioles organization, and Thomas Hatch, the number 10 ranked prospect among Chicago Cubs.

The pitchers lived up to their billing. Akin gave up just two hits in six innings, struck out nine, and walked one. Unfortunately, the two hits were home runs.

Hatch pitched five innings, allowing just one run on six hits with five strikeouts and a walk.

In the fourth inning, I decided to see how much time the two were taking between pitches, counting from the moment they received the ball from the catcher or umpire until the moment they released the pitch. For both, the answer was usually 10 to 12 seconds. When Hatch got into a jam, he took about 15 seconds.

Now, this was a minor league, and both pitchers were only being asked to work five or six innings. Thus, they didn’t need to pace themselves.

However, during the weekend, I heard someone say, based on watching a re-run of Game 1 of the 1970 World Series, that Jim Palmer took 10 to 12 seconds between pitches in that contest. Palmer had no innings or pitch limit. He worked 8.2 innings that day. And he was facing a fearsome lineup that included Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, and Lee May.

Yet, if the information I heard is accurate, Palmer was able to work twice as fast as the average major league pitches works now. And, not coincidentally, the game, won by the Orioles 4-3 in nine full innings, took only two hours and 24 minutes to complete.

So even 20 seconds between pitches seems excessive. Sixteen seconds should be enough. A clock of that duration would likely knock another 12 minutes off the game, reducing the average length to about 2 hours and 45 minutes without any other changes.

A 16 clock would be a radical change for veteran pitchers. Thus, perhaps baseball should start with 20 seconds and reduce the length by a second each year until the number is down to 16. In addition, baseball could consider allowing pitchers more than 16 seconds if/when they reach the seventh inning.

There may be other tweaks that make sense. The bottom line, though, is that a 16 second clock, or something like it, is the way to make baseball great again.

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