By Evan Brunell
Baseball needs to speed up its games.
This is nothing new you're hearing. There are plenty of articles penned each season about this, especially every time the Yankees and Red Sox meet, doing their best to finish their games only after the West Coast completes theirs. With far too much regularity, you can bank on a Sox-Yanks game going four hours or more, which was the case Thursday night. Despite just six runs crossing the plate, it took 4:21 for New York to defeat Boston. And Josh Beckett wasn't even pitching, a man who took as much as 45 seconds to throw a pitch on Wednesday against New York.
Pace of game is a topic that has long bedeviled those in the game, and Sandy Alderson worked on the issue for years when he worked for MLB. And yet, the answer is staring everyone in the face. It's right there in the rule book. Prior to the 2007 season, MLB introduced a series of rule changes, which included:
Time between pitches: The allotment for delivering the ball with no one on base has been reduced, from 20 seconds to 12. The price for each violation is a ball.
Why the heck does baseball refuse to enforce this? It's not an issue of the players' association being unhappy. It's already in the rulebook, so the MLBPA doesn't have a valid complaint. And yet, it's a rule in name only -- umpires don't even bother to attempt to enforce it, except for isolated incidents every now and then that draw startled glances.
Rob Neyer at SB Nation thinks he knows why.
But umpires have to choose their battles. Sure, you can yell at your teenager every time she spends more than 15 minutes in the shower ... but is that really how you want to live? That's not how most umpires want to live. The great majority of umpires actually prefer to get along with everyone, because it makes life a lot easier.
What they should do is issue warnings, and call balls only if those warnings are repeatedly ignored. But even then, the pitchers and managers would scream bloody murder. Ejections, suspensions, appeals ... Even if the tactic "worked" in the long term, there would be a whole lotta pain in the short term. And we're programmed to avoid pain.
It's a valid point, as anyone whose ever had a teenage child can tell you. (And if you haven't, well... just think back to how you made your father lose his hair early.)
But why does it have to be up to the umpires to monitor how many seconds it takes a pitcher? Why can't baseball install a clock?
Before you start complaining about becoming more like the NBA instead of being baseball, did adding instant replay make baseball more like football? No. What adding replay did was add another facet to the game to help the right decisions be made, and required a whole new set of rules to be written. That's not the case with the clock for pitches. Again, it already exists. Adding a clock, which could easily be integrated without significant infrastructure upgrades by putting it on video scoreboards at stadiums, would be to improve the game of baseball and speed it up.
In my completely anecdotal surveying of sports fans over the years, improving the pace of the game would dramatically increase the interest of fans who otherwise avoid watching baseball. Heck, it would increase my own interest.
Here I am, having lived and breathed baseball for much of my life, having forgotten far more than I remember about the game and with a position writing about baseball. And yet, Thursday night's Sox-Yanks game made me want to stab an ice pick in my eye. It's just not fun to watch a game drag like that. But a two-hour, four-minute game? Sign me up. Those games are fun. Thursday night's Sox-Yanks game wasn't fun, it was a chore. This coming from someone who loves baseball.
Would there be pushback by players? Yeah, probably. No one adapts to change well, especially those who would feel severely crimped by the new rule -- the Becketts, the Rafael Betancourts of the world. But it's hard for these players to raise a stink when you have other players -- an entire team, actually -- trying to speed up games. The Diamondbacks have the NL West firmly in hand, but still struggle with attendance problems, as the Arizona Republic reports.
Pitcher Joe Saunders says the team has tried to make games more attractive to attend by playing "quick, intense games," finishing up a six-game homestand by completing every game in less than three hours. Even players know what it will take to attract fans to the game, and that's speeding up play.
It doesn't even have to be 12 seconds for a dramatic increase to be felt in the game. The average time it takes a pitcher to deliver a pitch after the prior one is 21.6 seconds (pickoffs excluded), a pace that has essentially remained unchanged back through at least 2007. Perhaps instead of requiring 12 seconds to deliver a pitch, you require 16 seconds. Or 18 seconds. Whatever number, as long as it's 20 seconds or less, will go a long way toward speeding games up.
In 2010, Baseball Reference found that an average of 292 pitches are thrown per game, up 22 pitches from 20 years ago. By dint of the increase alone, an additional eight minutes or so is needed to complete the game. That may not seem like a lot, but it's not small potatoes. If you average out 292 pitches per game by the 21.6 average seconds needed for each pitch, you're looking at an hour and 45 minutes per game. Add in warmups in between each inning, batted balls, reliever changes and so on and so forth, and you can start seeing why it takes about three hours to complete a game. But if you reduce the average time to 12 seconds between pitches, that comes out to just under an hour. So now you're looking at about two hours to complete a game, which is all Mark Buehrle needed on Monday to shut out the Twins. His average pace this season is 15.8 seconds, and is considered one of the fastest pitchers in the game. And even he doesn't reach the 12-second mark.
For whatever reason, baseball hasn't opted to enforce the rule. There are many brilliant minds working for MLB, and you can bet that the idea of enforcing the 12-second rule has been discussed. And discarded. With pace of the game always a hot-button topic, baseball needs to explain to everyone why enforcing the rule won't work. And they can't use the excuse of not wanting to burden umpires, because that's what clocks are for.
Baseball is the only major sport that's played without a clock, and that's one of the most endearing traits of the game. But a pitch-count clock doesn't count, not when it's (this is getting repetitive by now, isn't it?) already in the rules, and not when the overall game still would not be governed by a clock.
It's time for baseball to lay out why exactly a pitch-count clock can't be enforced, or to come up with an alternative.