Pitch clock coming to a minor league park near you

During the 2014 Arizona Fall League season, Major League Baseball used the game’s best prospects as guinea pigs to try out some “Pace of Game” initiatives. The measures included the 20-second pitch clock, batters keeping one foot in the batter’s box at all times, no pitches being thrown on an intentional walk, a 2:30 time limit on breaks between innings, and only three “time out” conferences between pitchers/catchers, pitchers/coaches, and batters/coaches.

The average time of game outside of Salt River Fields (the only ballpark where the 20-second pitch clock was used) was 2 hours and 46 minutes. At Salt River, the games were just a little shorter, 2:42.

pitchclock_011515Some of the AFL players felt rushed with the 20-second pitch clock, or clocks, as there were five located around the field (two behind home plate, one in the corner of each dugout, and one above the wall in left-center field). The players felt most rushed when things were starting to go bad and the catchers definitely felt rushed.

A violation of the pitch clock was an automatic ball, which could prove costly in a close game.

As I am sure you have all heard, Commissioner Bud Selig announced that the 20-second pitch clock, along with a hitter keeping one foot in the batter’s box and time limits on pitching changes, will be implemented in the minor leagues at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2015 (who is paying for the clocks?).

I like the idea of speeding up the games. They have gotten too long. Too many minor league games average three hours and most fans leave between 8:30pm and 9pm anyway.

MLB thinks that if they speed up the minor league game (at least at the upper levels), it will speed up the big league game because the players will have grown accustomed to it. However, many Double-A and Triple-A players have played for a long time or have reached the big leagues and have routines that are hard to break. It is almost like a bit of a punishment to those who do not make a big league roster.

Why not implement the rule in spring training and at the lower levels of the minor leagues? Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach a quicker game to players just starting out their professional careers?

I am curious to see how it works.

There were mixed reactions throughout the game when the announcement was made and I was curious to see what some of the 2014 Wilmington Blue Rocks pitchers thought of the new rule that they will most likely have to follow in the upcoming season.

Kyle Bartsch, who was traded to San Diego this offseason (and has been invited to big league spring training):

I’ve never felt like pace was an issue with me, cause I try to go tempo tempo tempo on the mound, so honestly I haven’t even thought of it.

Andrew Edwards:

I like it [the new rule]. I think the game does need to speed up a bit.

Zeb Sneed, who was released this offseason but is still looking to pick up with a new team:

I don’t really have a problem with them [the new rules]. I think the reason why they are doing it is because many people complain about how long games last. And this will help speed it up.

Mark Peterson, who pitched the second half of the season with Double-A NW Arkansas:

Not a fan of this pitch clock idea. If you want to speed up the game, implement between inning clock like college game has.

Blue Rocks closer Mark Peterson against the P-Nats on June 5, 2014.

Blue Rocks closer Mark Peterson against the P-Nats on June 5, 2014.

I actually agree with Peterson on this. Problem is, the between inning promotions. How many times have you seen the pitcher finish warming up and the players standing around waiting for the crazy between inning promotion to finish?

I understand why there is not a clock for between innings because it would kill minor league baseball. They wouldn’t be bringing in the marketing dollars. Maybe we should put a shorter clock on the promotions.

MLB would not be bringing in all the commercial dollars. Or would they? Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote on Tuesday that MLB is considering a new proposal that pitchers would be required to finish their warm up pitches and be ready to start the inning 30 seconds before the commercial break were to end. Batters would have to be in the box 20 seconds before the end of the break. Apparently, non-nationally televised games’ commercial breaks are only supposed to last two minutes and five seconds.

So maybe Mark will get his wish.

I asked Peterson if he thought the pitch clock would change how he went about doing things on the mound:

It will be in the back of my mind. Trying to close a game and make a mistake of taking too much time…there goes the game…I’ll have to get used to it. Don’t agree but have to follow the rules.

With the 20 second pitch clock, the stolen base game will get interesting. There will now be less time for the cat-and-mouse game that goes on when a runner reaches base. There will be less time for pitchers to alter how long they hold the ball before going into their motion, meaning base stealers should get a better read. I expect higher stolen base numbers at the upper levels of the minor leagues in 2015.

I was curious as to which KC Royals pitchers could be in trouble with the 20-second clock in 2015. FanGraphs has “Pace” data that Kevin Ruprecht of Royals Review put into a table of the Royals pitchers and how many seconds on average there were between pitches.

Royals setup man Wade Davis checking a base runner during spring training 2014 (Jen Nevius).

Royals setup man Wade Davis checking a base runner during spring training 2014 (Jen Nevius).

Those who took the most time were relievers, who pitch in more pressure situations. Jason Frasor took 26.8 seconds. Wade Davis was right behind him at 26.5 seconds. Closer Greg Holland took 25.7 seconds while Kelvin Herrera took 25.5 seconds. Lefty Tim Collins took 22.7 seconds and right-hander Louis Coleman took 21.8 seconds.

Starters Yordano Ventura and Jeremy Guthrie took between 20.1 and 20.7 seconds. Jason Vargas took 21.6 seconds. Lefty Danny Duffy could use some work, he took 23.2 seconds.

Rookie Brandon Finnegan needs work. He took 25.3 seconds, but that may have had to do with the situations he was in at the big level without much professional experience. Michael Mariot, who will probably see time in Omaha, took 22.7 seconds. Casey Coleman took 22 seconds.

Starter Aaron Brooks, in his brief big league stint, took 21.6 seconds.

But what about the minor league guys? I took a look at some of the video I filmed of the Blue Rocks pitchers throughout the 2014 season. Here is how they stacked up:

  • Miguel Almonte (bases empty): 5-7 seconds
  • Miguel Almonte (base runner): 12-14 seconds
  • Kyle Bartsch (bases empty): 9-13 seconds
  • Kyle Bartch (base runner): 13 seconds
  • Christian Binford (bases empty) 7 seconds
  • Jonathan Dziedzic (bases empty): 6 seconds
  • Andrew Edwards (bases empty): 15 seconds
  • Andrew Edwards (base runner): 15-22 seconds
  • Sean Manaea (bases empty): 10-12 seconds
  • Sean Manaea (base runner): 14-17 seconds
  • Zeb Sneed (base runnner): 16-22 seconds
  • Daniel Stumpf (bases empty): 6 seconds
  • Johnny Walter (base runner): 10-16 seconds
  • Kyle Zimmer (base runner): 16 seconds

 

Let’s just say last year’s Blue Rocks pitching staff was very quick and most should not have a problem with the new pitch clock.

 

What do you think of the new rules?

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About Jen Nevius

I first became a KC Royals fan way back in 1995 when I attended my first Wilmington Blue Rocks game. I fell in love with minor league baseball then and began following the Royals as former Blue Rocks clawed their way to the big leagues. 3+ years ago I started covering the Royals for Aerys Sports, but since the site has been shut down, I am going out on my own.
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