MLB's new pitch clock may ultimately prove as harmless as it is hated

Major League Baseball’s new pitch clock, which it hopes will help speed up games, is very visible during play. (AP)
Major League Baseball’s new pitch clock, which it hopes will help speed up games, is very visible during play. (AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — I came to see the pitch clock, like going to the zoo to see the shovel.

It’s new. I’m not. Change can be difficult for me, particularly if it is happening too far from a restroom. They put up a stop sign on my regular morning drive and two days out of three I fishtail onto the golf course.

As part of my research into the pitch clock, I asked Joc Pederson if he’d given it any thought.

“Get out of here,” he said. “They’re not doing that.”

“No, they are,” I said.

“No way,” he said.

“There will be a pitch clock in today’s game,” I said.

“There is?” he said. “I guess I should read my emails.”

That exchange drew in a handful of other guys, and the conversation spun into instant replay, which is not what I’d come to see, and then commercial time between innings, which I had no interest in either, and we never did get back to the original idea.

All in all, they did not seem to be taking the pitch clock very seriously, not like I was.

“It doesn’t matter!” shouted one player, who I will not name because I wasn’t speaking directly to him and, besides, he used a profanity. “Pitch clock doesn’t [freakin’] matter! It’s baseball, not basketball!”

Then, he added, darkly, “Let’s talk about the pitch clock so people stop talking about free agency!”

Somebody was having a bad day. I backed away.

“You don’t really notice it when nobody’s on base,” catcher Will Smith said. “It’s more when there’s someone on second base and you’re giving multiple signs.”

Smith played in 98 games last season in the minor leagues, where there’s been a pitch clock since 2015. Last season the allotted time between pitches was lowered from 20 seconds to 15.

“It’s not a perfect system but I can see why they want to implement it,” he said. “It’s kind of silly sometimes.”

Major League Baseball will test the system in spring training and consider it for the regular season as opening day nears. The union is not so sure, and by that I mean adamantly against it. A violation of the clock by a pitcher would result in a called ball. If the batter is not ready, he’d be docked a strike. Imagine that scene.

“A guy can strike out without seeing a pitch,” Pederson mused.

Joc Pederson and the Dodgers don’t seem thrilled about the new pitch clock, but they also don’t seem to notice it much. (Getty)
Joc Pederson and the Dodgers don’t seem thrilled about the new pitch clock, but they also don’t seem to notice it much. (Getty)

In his 98 games, Smith said, he saw a ball or strike called as result of the pitch clock, “Probably, maybe, 15 times in the year. Twenty, maybe. Coulda been 10.”

The big-league pitch clock is set at 20 seconds. The clock itself, here at Camelback Ranch, is attached to the lower-right portion of the scoreboard. The numbers themselves are large. And red. There’s another on the backstop, over the catcher’s right shoulder. That one’s for the pitcher, presumably.

Rich Hill, who started for the Dodgers on Saturday, knew about the clock but, he said, never noticed it. He could, however, sense its evil presence.

“I don’t like it,” he said, “because I don’t want it to have an effect on the game or an outcome. … That’s something we’re unfortunately staring down the barrel of.”

He added, “A clock certainly isn’t going to speed up a game.”

In the first couple innings, after which I honestly got a little bored watching the clock race the pitcher to zero, there’d been only one or two instances that could’ve been borderline violations. We’re talking a second or two. Otherwise, for example, Hill received the baseball, went to the back of the mound, kicked dirt off his cleats, adjusted his cap, flicked at the rubber with his toe, got the sign and went into his delivery … with still nine seconds left on the clock. As Smith predicted, the clock reached three, two, one more often with runners on base, and still no one seemed in any real rush.

“Players are always sort of not open to change,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “But, also, players are very adaptable. I think there might be only a handful of pitchers it might affect in major league baseball. And hitters are just as much victims as the pitchers are.”

As it happens, three Dodgers are among the slowest-working pitchers in the game – Joe Kelly, Kenley Jansen and, yes, Pedro Baez.

“I knew it was coming,” Roberts said with a grin.

Still, no worries, he said.

“They gotta adjust,” he said. “That’s the way it goes.”

Pederson, turned out, led off the game, and broke in the clock with a strikeout. But, a brisk strikeout. Well within the time allowed. Later, in his third at-bat, he nearly hit the clock with a home run.

Yes, he said, he saw the clock. No, he didn’t give it any thought beyond being aware it was there. No, he hadn’t yet checked his emails.

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