6-6 in the bottom of the ninth. Full count. A chance to walk-it-off and prove yourself as a prospect… but you weren’t set in the batter’s box fast enough. Unfortunately for Braves prospect Cal Conley, he is apart of the many MLB players who are adapting to the new pitch clock rules.
Imagine what basketball looked like when the shot clock was first introduced. The game transformed from possession focused and low scoring to high octane and frequent transition. While baseball’s changes might not be as dramatic, Major League Baseball’s efforts to cut the length of its games has forced hitters and pitchers alike to adapt their approach.
The new pitch clock rules require pitchers to begin their delivery within 15 seconds with bases empty or within 20 seconds with runners on base. Additionally, the batter is required to be set before the 8-second mark on the clock. If the pitcher fails to beat the clock, they are met with an automatic ball. Likewise, the batter will receive an automatic strike if they are not prepared in time. Instead of strolls between at-bats or tossing the rosin bag around, pitchers and batters now are on a quickened, systematic pace that is foreign to the traditional baseball we know.
Through the first week of spring training, the pitch clock has achieved its goal of quickening the pace of games. Game time is down 29 minutes on average; from 3 hours and 6 minutes last year to 2 hours and 37 minutes this year. Although pace of play is up, the pitch clock has seen mixed reviews from MLB fans. Some fans love the quickened pace while others feel the growing pains and “fake” walks and strikeouts are ruining baseball. Did Major League Baseball make a mistake, or are some fans overreacting?
The Good and the Bad
The pitch clock breeds novel moments, for better and for worse. Take the case of the aforementioned Cal Conley. Fans live to see high leverage, intense moments where players can demonstrate their world class skills. Instead, they got to see a clock run out and the game end. Anti-climactic strikeouts and walks are an unfortunate side effect of the pitch clock, but the time crunch has also bred some electric moments.
Check out this Wandy Peralta strikeout; it’ll only take 2o seconds…
The accelerated pace of play has put the impotence on pitchers to take advantage of hitters adapting to the breakneck speed of modern baseball. Gone are the days of batters walking around contemplating what pitch is next: hitters now have to think quick and react even faster. Some fans have opined that they missed the old version of strategy in hitter-pitcher interactions, where the batter would take time in between pitches to adjust their approach. Fans like Jeremy Booth find the changes under the pitch clock to not be “actual baseball.”
It is undeniable that the World Baseball Classic has great energy, but the inclusion of a pitch clock in Major League Baseball does not mean that strategy is now absent from the game: it is simply different. At-bats are a bit like music now with a greater focus on the rhythms of the hitter and pitcher/ The clock now acts as a metronome for an at-bat. Both the pitcher and the batter have specified times for when they must complete certain acts. Since the pitcher has the ball, it is their rhythm that the batter must match. With heightened pace, the pitcher can change their rhythm rapidly to disrupt the batter’s mental and physical preparation. Being the maniac that he is, Max Scherzer has already begun to adopt strategies to mess with a hitter’s rhythm in this new, fast-paced environment.
As pitchers adapt, what used to be known as quick-pitching or gamesmanship is now known as strategy.
Don’t Panic: Change Breeds Innovation… and Fun
The pitch clock changes may be counterintuitive to the baseball purist’s ideal game of “actual baseball,” but the half-hour reduction of dead-time from major league games is something that will bring eyes to the sport and create an improved, concise viewing experience. As hitters and pitchers adapt, the growing pains of pitch clock fails and unamusing automatic balls and strikes will lessen as new strategies develop. Change is something quite foreign to the rules of Major League Baseball, yet it is something that invites curiosity from fans and innovation from the players. As adaption continues, fans and players alike will settle into the pitch clock and enjoy the novelty it brings. In the digital media age, baseball must adapt to shifting demographic needs and watch as the players adjust to create a different, new, and exciting version of our beloved sport.