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Pitch clocks are (eventually) coming to baseball

Pitch clocks will be assigned to Triple-A next season, but they'll eventually get called up.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Look up at the sky. Feel your trick knee getting stiff. Survey the landscape.

Pitch clock's a-comin'.

Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi have the scoop over Fox Sports:

A 20-second pitch clock will be implemented at Double-A and Triple-A, but not in the majors in 2015, sources said.

Back in April, I asked what your ideal length of a baseball game was. More than 1,500 readers voted in the poll, and more than half the respondents suggested the perfect time of a baseball game was between 2:30 and 2:45.

The time of game in 2014: 3:08. The trend continues.

Average Time of Game
1950: 2:21
1960: 2:38
1970: 2:34
1980: 2:38
1990: 2:51
2000: 3:01
2014: 3:08

The Arizona Fall League tried out pitch clocks this fall (among other changes), and the average time of game dropped to 2:51. Much, much closer to the ideal of a plurality of baseball nerds. The clocks are coming to the upper minors, which means they're probably coming to the majors eventually. Baseball Twitter is alternately gnashing teeth and shrugging shoulders about the idea, but I'm here with three suggestions. One serious, one kinda serious, and one not serious.

First up, the kinda serious:

Moneyball II: Time Bandits

Unless I should have called this section Time Bandits II: Moneyball. The idea is simple: Figure out the pitchers who won't give a rip about the clocks and sign them. At the same time, figure out the slowpokes whose rhythm might be drastically affected by the clock and cash in on that value before the clocks come next season.

The best pitchers at getting rid of the ball, according to FanGraphs:

  • Mark Buehrle
  • R.A. Dickey
  • Doug Fister
  • Brett Anderson

Three of the four are free agents after the season, and Dickey has a $12 million team option. There would be a chance that an enterprising team can build an entire rotation out of pitchers who already know how to follow the danged rules, anticipating a potential pitch clock.

On the other side of the ledger, here are some of the pitchers who hold onto the ball way too long:

  • David Price
  • Jorge de la Rosa
  • Clay Buchholz
  • Edinson Volquez
  • Chris Archer

Sell! Sell! Sell!

Half-serious, but there's a larger grain of truth behind it: There will be pitchers messed up by this clock. Their entire life, their mechanics are based on a certain rhythm, a certain pace. Their brains will melt because of this clock and their arms will follow.

Of course, we won't be able to tell which pitchers are which. They'll be mixed in with the pitchers who would have got hurt, who would have got hit, who would have struggled if the play clock didn't exist. If the play clock showed up in 2012: "The play clock ruined Tim Lincecum!" If the play clock showed up in 2013: "The play clock ruined Justin Verlander!" There will be signals, but there will be more noise. Clutch hitters probably exist, for example, but like hell am I going to trust you to tell me who they are.

That doesn't mean there might not be an advantage to identifying the slowpokes and eyeing them suspiciously until they've pitched with the clocks for a season. David Price, one year, $36 million. You read it here, first.

Stock up on double threats

What's Brooks Kieschnick doing? Hey, Jeff Francoeur, get over here! Jason Lane, here's a guaranteed deal with an option. Make an entire team out of quick-pitching double threats. Because when you remove any innings requirements, here are the 10 pitchers who were quickest to the plate last year:

  1. Drew Butera
  2. Daniel Descalso
  3. Skip Schumaker
  4. Dean Anna
  5. J.P. Arencibia
  6. Steve Tolleson
  7. Andrew Romine
  8. Travis Snider
  9. Martin Maldonado
  10. Danny Worth

Completely and utterly fascinating. There will be someone in the comments who will come along and say, "Well, that's because pace is based on (logical explanation that ruins all of our fun), so take it with a grain of salt." Shame this person. Because as far as I know, position players are the quickest to the plate and by a large margin, and that's interesting as all heck. Maybe it's because they know that hitters hate quick pitching, and the possible advent of clocks will turn baseball into something that makes soccer fans wonder why people watch such a low-scoring game.

Maybe it's because they don't know what they're doing.

Stock up on these guys because ... well, it would be funny. I don't think it would really help. But really, Phillies, do you want to lose a lot of games this year, or do you want to be the most watchable-unwatchable team in history? I know what I'd choose.

Start getting used to it now

Embrace it. Because it's coming. Let's see what these clocks look like:

clock


GAAAAAAH. Okay, maybe dial the size of the clock back a bit, or put the clocks where they would be just off camera. The networks can have their own clock pop up when it gets low, like football, or have it a part of every second of the game, like basketball. At first, no matter what happens, it'll be distracting. To the pitchers, to you, to your parents ... it'll drive us all nuts.

Imagine a twitch-addled 8-year-old kid trying to watch his or her first baseball game, though. Not go to his or her first game, or play in his or her first game, or watch his or her first game in the background, occasionally glancing up. Actually sit down to watch a full baseball game. It has to be so incredibly foreign, a deliberate pace like baseball's. It might be something to appreciate more as he or she gets older, and in 20 years the contrast of baseball might be a selling point. Comparing the pace of baseball to the pace of the world might be the entire point. It'll probably be the easiest way to detach from mind-Twitter and have deliberate thoughts for more than two seconds at a time.

But if that's not the case, if people don't care in the slightest about the luxury of a slow-paced game in a fast-paced world, baseball really will be hosed. I'm an officer in the Baseball Is a Healthy Sport army, but these damned kids with their video games and their smartphones and their Vines really can't pay attention. There's so much everything to filter now that six-second, repeatable videos really are a huge thing. Imagine the idea of six-second, repeatable videos in 1995. Everything's getting shorter, quicker, instant. The contrast might help baseball, but it might hurt it.

Here's a one-run game from September between two division rivals. That description should make you interested right away -- it seems like the template for a fantastic, memorable game. In the ninth inning, with the home team down by one, the closer for the Tigers came into the game. It should have been aerosol insanity in that stadium.

It was boring. It was dreadfully boring. Joe Nathan threw a first-pitch strike to Mike Moustakas. It took him 27 seconds after receiving the ball to throw the next pitch. After throwing a ball, Nathan took 23 seconds before delivering his next pitch. Moustakas stepped out, stepped in. Nathan looked in, shook off, caught butterflies, made a wish after blowing away dandelion spores ... it was interminable. It was so bad, I made a note to write about it in the offseason.

Write about Joe Nathan making the best game of the weekend boring as all hell

I don't want rapid-fire baseball. I still enjoy the contemplation between every pitch, wondering what the batter's thinking, wondering how the pitcher's going to counter that thinking. It's part of the appeal of baseball. It might be a majority of the appeal, the thing that sets the sport apart. But there's a happy medium, y'all. And it's far, far away from whatever in the heck Nathan was doing on that day.

There would be sad consequences to the pitch clock.

rip daisuke


But here's the rule already in place:

8.04 When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.”

Clock behind home plate, clock on the outfield wall that the umpire can peek at, no clock, a buzzer, a uniformed gentleman in a white bowler hat and tie who remains motionless all game until he has to raise a flag to signal a pitcher is taking too long ... whatever it takes. I'd prefer the umpires enforcing the rule on their own, but the clocks are probably coming because they're the simplest idea. That's a minor point. Enforce the rules, and turn baseball back into a leisurely game punctuated with bursts of excitement, not a webcam of a glacier punctuated with a polar bear eating a walrus every four hours.

Rescue the sport from the direction the Joe Nathans of the world are leading it, clocks. They will be a distraction at first, but they won't be as distracting as whatever people will choose to pay attention to instead of baseball in the first place.