Thoughts On The Pitch Clock

Triple-A and Double-A baseball leagues are going to be guinea pigs in further experimentation to speed up the pace of play, we learned yesterday.

At least two new rules are coming in to play for the Pacific Coast League in 2015: the league is going to implement a pitch clock, and enforce the rule that says a better must keep one foot in the batter’s box between pitches.

The pitcher must throw within 20 seconds with a runner on base, and 12 seconds with nobody on. The penalty for a violation: a ball is called.

This is going to work to speed up the games.

The Arizona Fall League tried these rules – and a few others – a couple of months ago and had clear results. The league shaved ten minutes off its average time of game.

The pitch clock worked – but it is controversial. Some fans feel that the lack of any clocks is part of the beauty of baseball.

Personally, I waver on the issue. The game needlessly takes too long right now, and that is for a variety of reasons.

I think that simply preventing the batter from stepping out of the box will speed up the game – so I’m glad that rule is coming in.

Limiting pitcher-catcher conferences would be a big step.

Getting rid of batter “walk-up” music would have a huge impact in the PCL. There are hitters in the PCL who stand and listen to their song for 15-20 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box.

In the minors we don’t have much of a problem with inning breaks that are too long (unless there is a performer like The Chicken), but the majors could make some adjustments in this area.

Here are the average major league game times by decade (data courtesy Baseball Prospectus):

2014: 3:09
2004: 2:51
1994: 2:58
1984: 2:40
1974: 2:29
1964: 2:35
1954: 2:31
1950: 2:23

There was no pitch clock in the 1950s or 1970s. Have you ever watched old games on MLB Network or elsewhere? The batter doesn’t leave the batter’s box, and the pitcher gets the ball and throws it. The game moves briskly and is more entertaining. Ta-Da!

Anyway, we’re trying the pitch clock in 2015. Full details will be announced soon.

I’m not planning on paying much attention to it while broadcasting. We’ll discuss it and note violations of course, but I don’t expect to dramatically say “down to two on the pitch clock!” very often. Maybe if this happens in a key situation with the game on the line.

Operationally, my hunch is the best way to use the clocks would be unobtrusively. Have the clocks in the dugouts, facing the field (none on scoreboards, etc). The umpire has a “buzzer” and is alerted if it reaches zero.

Or better yet, just use John McGrath’s traffic light idea. Green-yellow-red. That’s the best.

The Mariners made a trade which affects the Rainiers on Wednesday afternoon, acquiring left-handed pitcher Mike Kickham from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Class-A pitcher Lars Huijer.

Kickham has been with Fresno the last two seasons and pitched against Tacoma several times. He’s a durable lefty who has very good movement on his pitches – making him wild at times, and very effective at others.

Last year Kickham made 27 starts for Fresno, going 8-8 with a 4.43 ERA. In 148 innings he had 131 strikeouts and issued 64 walks, giving up just eight home runs.

Kickham has briefly appeared in the majors each of the last two years with San Francisco and has not had any success at that level yet. He’s on the Mariners 40-man roster, and 2015 will be his last option year.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Mariners designated pitcher Anthony Fernandez for assignment. Fernandez made five starts for Tacoma last year before injuring his elbow – he had Tommy John surgery in late May and is presumably out until at least mid-season this year.

We’ll go ahead and pencil Kickham into the Rainiers starting rotation right now.

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Have a super weekend!

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