- Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for ESPN.com.
Major League Baseball wants to institute a 14-second pitch clock with the bases empty and a 19-second timer with runners on, according to sources familiar with the situation.
The two numbers were settled on after experiments in the minor leagues, including in low-A in 2021, in which game times were cut by about 20 minutes. The minor leagues used 15-second and 17-second clocks, but MLB determined less time was needed for pitchers with the bases empty and more time with them occupied, according to sources, hence landing on 14/19.
The desire for a clock comes after years of increasing game times, culminating last season, when the average length of a nine-inning game was a record 3 hours, 10 minutes. That’s 20 minutes longer than just a decade ago, when the average length was 2:50.
Games in low-A West last year were reduced from 3:02 to 2:41 with the clock. There have been some mixed results with pitch clocks at different levels of professional baseball, but the league believes it can only help speed up the big league product.
Rule changes have been a storyline during recent collective bargaining agreement negotiations with the players’ union, though the sides have discussed various on-field issues for the past couple of years.
As part of the talks that took place in Florida recently, the league was interested in speeding up the process to implement rule changes — like the pitch clock — but it remains to be seen whether it will be successful. The sides continue to negotiate for a new CBA with another round of talks underway Sunday. The first two series of the 2022 regular season have been canceled after owners locked out the players in December, when the last CBA expired.
Under those terms, the league could unilaterally implement rule changes one year after formally proposing them to the union. They’re arguing to speed up the process, wanting to give 45 days’ notice while still getting input from players. They offered a panel consisting of six management officials, two player reps and an umpire.
In the past, major league players have expressed mixed feelings on the use of a pitch clock, with many veterans coming down against it.
“I know as players, that’s something that MLB is trying to negotiate,” union subcommittee member Max Scherzer said in 2019. “I don’t think there’s negotiation here. As players, it just shouldn’t be in the game. Having a pitch clock, if you have ball-strike implications, that’s messing with the fabric of the game. There’s no clock in baseball, and there’s no clock in baseball for a reason.”
Recently, retired pitcher CC Sabathia took an opposite view.
“This is a time to make some changes fundamentally to the game,” Sabathia said on his Ringer podcast, R2C2. “But the thing is that players are like most baseball purists, they don’t want the game changed. Some of these guys still [don’t] want a DH in the National League and all this different s— like no pitch clock. Have you been watching the f—— games we’ve been watching?”
In the past 50 years, the average length of a game has increased by 45 minutes, but 10 of those minutes have come since just 2017. Not including the shortened pandemic season in 2020, game times increased by five minutes in consecutive seasons: from 2016 to 2017 and then again from 2019 to 2021.
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