Major League Baseball has formally announced the implementation of a 20-second pitch clock to be tested during Spring Training games. Jeff Passan of ESPN reported minutes prior to the announcement that it’d be made today. Per the league’s announcement, there has been no decision made regarding the potential implementation of the pitch clock during the upcoming regular season, though Passan tweeted that there is a “very real possibility” of that happening.
Early in Spring Training, as players adjust to the latest pace-of-play tactic put in place by commissioner Rob Manfred, there will not be any ball or strike penalties for pitch-clock violations. By the second week of games, umpires will begin to issue warnings, and eventually, umps “will be instructed to begin assessing ball-strike penalties for violations.”
Notably, the pitch clock comes with numerous restrictions. It does not apply to the first pitch of a plate appearance, and the pitcher need only start his motion before the clock expires rather than deliver the actual pitch. Hitters will be required to be in the batter’s box by the time there are five seconds remaining on the clock, and the clock will reset when the pitcher receives the ball back from the catcher.
On pickoff plays, the clock will reset when the pitcher once again receives the ball from the infielder to whom he threw. The clock will also reset if pitchers feint a pickoff motion or step off the rubber with a runner on base. Mound visits will also cause the clock to reset. If an umpire calls or grants time, the pitch clock will not be used on the following pitch (unless time was called to swap out a ball thrown in the dirt).
Manfred has the ability to unilaterally implement the pitch clock for the 2019 regular season even if he does not come to an agreement on its implementation with the players’ union. However, Passan notes — as does today’s release announcing the clock — that the league will continue to negotiate with the players in search of an agreement on the matter.
Whether the clock is implemented in 2019 or not, today’s announcement serves as a harbinger for change in 2020 and beyond. Manfred has made improving the pace-of-play one of the focal points of his tenure as the league’s commissioner and has regularly put initiatives into place — most recently limiting the number of mound visits allowed per game and instituting automatic intentional walks. The pitch clock would be a more dramatic measure — one with far greater potential to impact the outcome of games — than other recent changes, however.
That said, while it’d be a change requiring adjustment for many established big leaguers, a pitch clock has been in place in the minor leagues dating back to the 2015 season. Because of that, it’d be a familiar regulation to the next wave of prospects who make their way to the big leagues. In theory, the pitch clock should be largely unnoticed once the league grows accustomed to its existence — be it this coming season or in the future — though there’ll surely be some early growing pains with the new system. And, of course, the move will likely be unpopular among most longstanding baseball fans; while part of Manfred’s aim in accelerating the pace of play is to grow the general appeal of baseball, there is of course a sizable (and oft-vocal) portion of the existing fanbase that does not want to see any such changes put into place.