Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

MANENS | Tick Tock, Here Comes the Pitch Clock

Max Scherzer is called “Mad Max” for a reason. Now the starting pitcher for the New York Mets on MLB’s 2023 Opening Day, he’s known for his all-or-nothing approach to the game, requiring that friends sign non-disclosure agreements before watching his workouts and pitching through broken noses and black eyes. His latest shenanigans, however, involve using the newly implemented MLB pitch clock to break the game of baseball.

Here’s how it happened: last September, in an attempt to speed up the pace of play, MLB announced the implementation of a pitch clock, which sets 15 and 20-second time limits on the time between pitches, using the former when bases are empty and the latter when runners are on base. But to Scherzer, MLB would not dictate his pace of play — he would dictate the MLB’s.

In the first few games of spring training, Scherzer managed to strike out a batter in 27 seconds, get in opponents’ heads by letting the clock wind down and even try starting his windup before a batter looked up — unfortunately resulting in the umpire calling a balk on him. He came out as an early supporter of the pitch clock, even beginning to call his own pitches using PitchCom, an electronic wristband that replaces easily stolen catcher signals, to allow him to throw pitches earlier. 

But now, he seems to have changed his mind.

The problem stems from the fact that if you want to speed up baseball games, players won’t play faster unless it affects their results — and once it does, players aren’t happy. That’s exactly what happened when the Red Sox vs. Braves game in February ended in a tie after the hitter struck out with bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning on a time violation. For many critics, the risk of a pitch clock violation deciding a regular season game is too great. 

GUHoyas |The MLB’s new implementation of a pitch clock is meant to speed up the pace of play and transform baseball into a more exciting product.

Others argue that the pitch clock alters how the game works, voiding key aspects of defensive strategy and placing hitters at a disadvantage as pitchers like Scherzer learn to exploit the clock. To be frank, they’re probably right. Players and fans will look back to the pre-pitch clock era and see differences in the game. But will baseball change at a fundamental level? So far, the numbers just aren’t there to back that up.

The closest analogy to MLB’s introduction of the pitch clock is the NBA’s introduction of the shot clock in 1954. Prior to its introduction, teams were incentivized to hold the ball and run down the clock, creating slow, low-scoring and high-foul games, and basketball struggled with viewership. Since the change, the NBA’s popularity has continued to balloon

As a sport, basketball changed for the better, and I believe we’ll see the same with the pitch clock. Yes, the new rule will most definitely change the outcome of some games — with 2430 regular-season games, that’s bound to happen. And yes, it will change how players and coaches approach the game — precisely like what we saw with the shot clock. But over time, the league will grow accustomed to it and reap the benefits of greater fan engagement.

If there’s anything MLB needs now, it’s fans. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic compounded the slow decline in game attendance, while TV ratings of the 2022 World Series were the second-lowest of all time. We can’t blame game time as the sole culprit — for example, the MLB lockout disrupted spring training, likely impacting the regular season — but shortening the time between pitches and condensing the length of games will go a long way to reshape the growing view of baseball as “boring.”

The most successful athletic organizations have sought to modernize the fan experience as a necessary component of sustaining the sport; Liberty Media revolutionized Formula One through heavy media marketing to younger fans, while the NFL and its associated networks have continued to innovate with additional features to their broadcasts, keeping games fresh. To keep up, MLB must earn its reputation as “America’s Game” rather than take it for granted, and that starts with embracing the pitch clock. 

Benjamin Manens is a first-year in the SFS. A League for Whom? is published online and in print every three weeks.

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