As part of Major League Baseball's ongoing effort to improve the pace of its games, a number of new rules in place for the 2023 season and beyond. Most notably, a pitch clock is now in place, and limitations on the number of pickoff throws and batter timeouts are in force.
- The clock is 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with a runner on base;
- The clock starts when the pitcher catches the ball from the catcher and the clock runs until the pitcher starts his delivery (not when he releases the ball);
- The batter must step in the box and be ready to hit with at least eight seconds left on the clock;
- Violations by the pitcher are an automatic ball and by the hitter are an automatic strike;
- A hitter gets one timeout per plate appearance;
- A pitcher gets two "disengagements" per batter. This is either stepping off or a pickoff attempt. A third disengagement would result in a balk. The disengagement count resets if a runner advances, such as with a stolen base, balk, wild pitch or passed ball.
The working assumption is that the onus of these new rules falls largely upon the pitcher, but no less a moundsman than Mets right-hander Max Scherzer -- a three-time Cy Young winner and future Hall of Famer who's still at the top of his guild at age 38 -- sees them as an opportunity. Via ESPN, here's what Scherzer had to say about those new rules following his first appearance of the spring:
"Really, the power the pitcher has now -- I can totally dictate pace. The rule change of the hitter having only one timeout changes the complete dynamic of the hitter-and-pitcher dynamic. I love it."
Scherzer went on to say that he alters his pace even within the confines of the pitch clock: "There is another layer here to be able to mess with the hitter's timing."
Let it be known that this isn't just idle talk from Scherzer. Here he is putting into practice the strategy he hints at in the quotes above, all at the expense of the Nationals' Riley Adams during Friday's game:
To summarize what you're seeing, Scherzer plays the stall game with what's left of the pitch clock and does so long enough to force Adams to burn his only timeout of the plate appearance. Then, almost the instant Adams gets his second foot in the box and his eyes trained on Scherzer, the pitch is on the way. That's made possible by Scherzer's decision not to disengage during the timeout and remaining ready to begin his delivery.
For fans who wondered whether the new rules governing pace might come at the cost of such micro-tactics, this is an encouraging to see. The fact that it's someone of Scherzer's prominence doing it also ensures that other pitchers will take notice and perhaps seek to "work the clock" in the same manner.