In the minors, the pitch clock has made a difference

As Major League Baseball seems set to implement a 20-second pitch clock for the 2018 season, at the higher levels of Minor League Baseball, they have had a clock in place for three seasons producing some of the desired results.

Overall, the clock has produced shorter game times while at the same time not many violations of the clock, according to one Orioles minor league skipper. Double-A Bowie’s Gary Kendall has seen his Baysox and other Eastern League teams use the clock since the 2015 season.

“I like it,” Kendall said. “I think it did speed the game up some. It just seemed like guys were on the mound a bit more. They were less likely to catch the ball and walk around the mound, that type of thing. But in the Eastern League, some of the parks were not equipped to keep track of it as others were. Some of our older ballparks. But I think it did keep a good pace to the game. We would use two clocks on both sides of home plate and one in center field.”

The office of Minor League Baseball in Florida provided data for this story. In each case, you can see a pretty dramatic drop in times of games in the first year of the clock in 2015. Times have risen since, but are still under the averages of the last pre-clock season of 2014.

Here is a listing of game times for the last three years in the two Triple-A circuits, the International and Pacific Coast Leagues, and three Double-A Leagues, as well. The first time listed is pre-clock in 2014, followed by 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Baseballs generic.jpgInternational League - 2:56, 2:40, 2:42, 2:48
Pacific Coast League - 2:58, 2:45, 2:48, 2:53
Eastern League - 2:50, 2:38, 2:43, 2:42
Southern League - 2:52, 2:42, 2:43, 2:45
Texas League - 2:51, 2:45, 2:41, 2:46

The clock starts when each pitcher catches the throw from the catcher and stops when they begin their windup with no one on base, or come to the stretch position with runners on base. So pitchers could stop the clock by holding the ball in the stretch position, but they have to eventually throw it.

Kendall didn’t see many clock violations the last few seasons. A violation would be called as a ball for the batter. So if it happened on a 1-0 count, the count would go to 2-0. If it happened on ball four, the batter draws a walk.

“Not as many (violations) as you would think,” Kendall said. “Just a handful. I heard more than I saw from other managers that had happened in games before we had played their team. I saw more our first year. But players knew what was expected. I like an up-tempo game and didn’t have any problems with it. I have not seen actual times of games, but it sure seemed like the games went quicker. The pace was better.

“The umpires had a good feel for it and did a good job with it. I never saw teams take advantage of trying to slow the game if or when the clock was not working properly.”

MASNsports.com’s Nationals beat writer Mark Zuckerman produced this excellent story a few days ago on time of games and the pitch clock. He noted that the average time of a major league game last season was 3 hours, 8 minutes, the longest in history and up 13 minutes from a decade ago. He also pointed out that FanGraphs.com has been tracking time between pitches since 2008. It was 21.7 seconds that year and was up to 24.3 seconds last season. Zuckerman also computed that a reduction of those 2.6 seconds back to the 2008 average would reduce game times by about 13 minutes.

Per FanGraphs, here is time between pitches for some O’s pitchers in the 2017 season:

20.7 - Wade Miley
23.3 - Kevin Gausman
23.4 - Miguel Castro
23.5 - Dylan Bundy
24.9 - Brad Brach
26.7 - Chris Tillman
27.5 - Jeremy Hellickson
29.5 - Darren O’Day

As a team, the Cardinals were the fastest with an average of 22.7 seconds between pitches in the big leagues last season. The Angels, Dodgers and Tigers tied for slowest at 25.4 seconds. The O’s staff tied for ninth-fastest at 23.9 seconds. So I guess this year we are going to see this implemented and find out its impact in the majors.

“I don’t how that will work in the majors. Hard to know how that is going to go,” Kendall said.

* Later today, the latest voting for the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced. It will be televised during a live broadcast beginning at 6 p.m. on MLB Network. Former Oriole and Yankee Mike Mussina is close to getting in during this his fifth year of eligibility. He got 51.8 percent of the vote last year and 75 percent is needed for election.

On my Twitter feed, I asked readers if they believe Mussina will make it this time:

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