Trevor Plouffe was on a rehab assignment at Class AAA Rochester during the first week of August and played in games with a pitch clock for the first time.
When he returned to the Twins, he told teammates and coaches of how much he enjoyed the flow of the games.
“I think that’s a cool addition,” Plouffe said. “The games did move at a better pace. I don’t think it disrupted your thought process or your strategy. The game just had a better pace.”
Good answer, Major League Baseball would say.
With games again taking longer to play, the league is looking radical changes to shorten games and increase action. One tool Commissioner Rob Manfred would like to use is a 20-second pitch clock, which has been used in the minor leagues. Any changes likely would be implemented in agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association, and the sides are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, because the current one expires Dec. 1.
Any pitcher who isn’t ready to deliver a pitch in 20 seconds will have a ball added to the count.
“We feel it’s been effective in the minor leagues,” Manfred told reporters last week during the owners meetings in Houston. “You look month-by-month in terms of where we were in terms of game time, we did really well early and kind of regressed the second half of last year, and certainly this year.
“The more we can have on the field, constant reminders so it’s in front of people’s minds, the better off we are in terms of continuing to move the game along.”
Through Sunday, the average game time in the majors was 3 hours, 12 seconds. The Twins ranked 18th of the 30 teams at 3:00:33. That comes after Sunday’s games averaged a tidy 2 minutes, 49 seconds. Last year, the average game lasted 2:54:0. The increase of some six minutes per game has set off alarms at MLB headquarters in New York, since the league has implemented pace-of-play rules in recent years.
So Manfred wants a pitch clock. “I would,” he said, “because there’s no temporal assigned to that.”
Part of the allure of baseball is that it’s a game played in innings and generally not by a clock. It’s an event where you can have a conversation with someone and not lose track of the action. But times change. Stadiums have lounge seating and drink rails. There’s already a clock on how long pitchers can warm up before innings. Now a pitch clock is being proposed.
“For the most part, 20 seconds is plenty, even for the slowest of guys,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
Twins reliever Pat Dean, a starter when he was at Rochester, had no problems with the 20-second clock, which shuts off once the pitcher is set on the rubber.
“I don’t know if it has sped up the game as much as they would like it to,” he said. “I know, for me, it really hasn’t been an issue.”
It hasn’t been for fellow lefthanded reliever Ryan O’Rourke, either, except one time last year. He was charged with a ball when he wasn’t ready to pitch in time.
“I was on the mound and the batter was taking his time or wasn’t really in the box,” O’Rourke said. “I kind of stepped out as a gesture to him then stepped back on and they didn’t rest the clock for me. It got to zero and the umpire stops the play and yells, ‘ball one.’
“Then I walked the guy.”
According to fangraphs.com, Boston’s David Price takes 25.4 seconds between pitches, the most of any pitcher with at least 100 innings thrown. Baltimore’s Wade Miley, at 17.7, is the fastest.
The seconds add up. According to USA Today last week, and average of 288.7 pitches are being thrown in a major league game.
Not everyone is ready to embrace having their pace timed.
White Sox closer David Robertson expressed his displeasure to Chicago reporters, saying: “You can’t take a game I’ve been playing for a long time and change it by putting a shot clock in. It’s pretty ridiculous. It’s not basketball.”
Twins righthander Kyle Gibson, who averages 22.4 seconds between pitches, sounds like a purist was well.
“I know there are times when I’m 23 or 24 [seconds] but I think, for the most part, I try to work fast,” Gibson said. “I’ve never seemed to have a problem down there on the rehab assignment [with the clock], but I don’t know if I’m in favor of it.
“I think there are times in the game where the pitcher needs to slow some things down and there are times when a hitter wants to slow some things down. I feel like the less clocks we can have, the better.”
Change, however, is inevitable. If batters have to stay in the batter’s box, then pitchers will have to stay around the rubber. The days of Mike Pelfrey and Scott Baker pacing around the mound between pitches might be ending.
“ ‘I think that they are going to continue to find ways to address their concerns about length of games,” Molitor said. “Not just time but pace. From what I heard from people I respect, it does make a difference.”