Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Over the weekend, Major League Baseball entered a new era. The first games – albeit spring training games – were played under the new rules implemented this season that include the banning of the shift, bigger bases, and most notably the pitch clock.

The pitch clock is the rule that has gotten the most attention. In an effort to shorten games, players are now clocked in between pitches. From the time they get the ball back from the catcher, pitchers have 15 seconds with the bases empty or 20 seconds with runners on base to begin their pitching motion (30 seconds prior to the first pitch of an at-bat). If they don’t a ball is added to the count.

Under the new rule, batters are timed as well. They’ll receive an automatic strike if not in the box by the eight second mark. Pitchers are also limited two step-offs or pickoff moves per at-bat – a third would result in a balk.

  • Feb 24, 2019; Fort Myers, FL, USA; A general view of the pitch clock being used in a spring training game between the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins at JetBlue Park. Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    Feb 24, 2019; Fort Myers, FL, USA; A pitch clock being used in a spring training game between the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins at JetBlue Park. Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

  • Early on, the changes have been noticeably and strongly effective. Sitting down and watching the games already feels like a more expedited, engaging process – and the numbers back that up.

    Over the first weekend of spring training games, the average game time was 2:38. That’s down 23 minutes from last year’s spring training average. When pitch clocks were tested in the minors last year, the average game time dropped by 25 minutes, so there’s evidence to suggest that number could carry over once the regular season begins (last year, spring training games were on average two minutes shorter than regular season games).

    Just how notable of a change would that be? The last MLB season to have an average game time (per nine innings) under 2:40 was 1985. Average game times have exceeded three hours every season since 2012, reaching a record 3:11 in 2021.

    These changes have also created some new and interesting dynamics late in games. Look no further than the Red Sox spring training opener. Tied 6-6 with the Atlanta Braves in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded, second baseman Cal Conley was facing a full count. However, he failed to get in the box in time, resulting in a game-ending automatic strike (extra innings aren’t played in the spring – in the regular season, the game would have moved to extras).

  • As players like Conley experience the new rules, they’ll naturally be accustomed to playing faster. With that, the time of game could continue to improve.

    For years, Major League Baseball has hemmed and hawed around the idea of pace of play. They’ve turned to non-answers like eliminating intentional walks (something that was estimated to save each team about two and a half minutes total over the course of an entire season), the free runner in extra innings (how does that make the typical nine-inning game faster?), limiting pitching changes, and other tweaks that had minimal to no impact.

    Now though, it looks like they may have made a change that actually works. The initial TV ratings of the regular season will be telling as to how fans are really responding, but without a doubt the games are certainly more watchable already.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].

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