MLB’s rule change initiatives headed into 2023 have largely had their intended effects, improving the run scoring environment while cutting down on game times. That being said, those changes haven’t stopped players from hoping that the rules surrounding the pitch clock, which limits pitchers to 15 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on, would be relaxed somewhat during the postseason given the heightened importance given to each play during a win-or-go-home series.
It seems as though those players will be disappointed, however, as Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci reports that MLB has decided not to adjust the pitch clock during the postseason this year. Per Verducci, the league informed the Competition Committee yesterday that they would not propose any amendments to the rules for postseason play this year. It’s easy to see why the league would be satisfied with the changes and not look to mix things up, given the average game time has dropped from 3:03 in 2022 to just 2:39 this year. While Verducci notes that game times have crept up throughout the year as hitters have increasingly made use of their timeout during plate appearances, August’s average game time of 2:41 is still more than twenty minutes shorter than last year’s average.
While there won’t be changes to the pitch clock this postseason, that doesn’t mean the league isn’t contemplating changes at all. Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper recently noted that, starting on September 5, the pitch clock at the Triple-A level will be tweaked significantly. Rather than the previous 14 seconds with the bases empty and 19 seconds with runners on at the level (one second fewer than in the majors in both situations), Triple-A games down the stretch will instead operate with a single, 17-second clock for all situations. Cooper notes that the change is made possible thanks to the level’s widespread use of PitchCom, which allows pitchers and catchers to communicate without the use of signs.
Other, smaller changes at Triple-A are planned as well with an eye toward preventing pitchers and catchers from gaming the pitch clock, such as lowering the number of mound visits. While the changes at the Triple-A level are by no means guaranteed to reach the majors, it’s nonetheless worth noting that the league is still experiment with the specifics of the pitch clock in hopes of further optimizing the rule.
In addition to the incoming pace-of-play related changes, the Triple-A level is also poised to see a change to its ABS system for automating the strike zone. While previously, ABS has used percentages of a hitter’s height to determine the top and bottom limits of the strike zone, that has created issues due to varying body types between players that a human strike zone would normally account for. As such, Cooper relays that going forward the ABS system will be altered to use visual tracking when setting the strike zone to create a custom strike zone for each individual player. While the new strike zone is expected to more closely mimic a human strike zone, the top of the zone will still be lower than the major league strike zone, an intentional feature implemented in hopes of lowering the number of strikeouts on fastballs at the top of the zone.
The change toward an individualized strike zone more akin to the ones created by human umpires seems to be a step in the right direction as people from all sides of the game look toward the possibility of an automated strike zone of some variety reaching the major leagues in the coming years. An automated strike zone wouldn’t necessarily remove the entire human element of calling the strike zone; while half of all Triple-A games are called with a fully automated strike zone, the other half utilize human umpires while offering both pitchers and hitters a challenge system that utilizes the automated strike zone to determine the outcome of the challenge.