Posted on January 18, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
The idea of a 20-second pitch clock in Major League Baseball has been talked about for several years. But it may become a reality sooner rather than later. Despite resistance from the MLB Players Association, it now appears likely that a pitch clock will be put in place for the 2018 season.
Since taking office three years ago, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has made pace of play one of his top priorities. He’s been bound and determined to reduce the average length of games and increase in-game action. The average time of a 9-inning game in 2017 was 3 hours and 5 minutes, an all-time high.
Manfred has preferred that the players be on board with any major rule changes. However, the players union has not been receptive to Manfred’s ideas. The slow free agent market this winter also has the players upset and less willing to respond favorably to Manfred’s ideas. That could lead to the Commissioner making changes without the approval of the players union.
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“My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players,” Manfred said owners meetings in November. “But if we can’t get an agreement, we are going to have rule changes in 2018, one way or the other.”
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Manfred has the power to implement changes unilaterally. That’s not his preferred method. However, Manfred and the players are not seeing eye to eye on potential changes. The players union held a conference call earlier this week in which team representatives almost unanimously opposed what Manfred and MLB are proposing.
To be fair, the players acknowledge that pace of play is an issue that need to be addressed. But they do not want a pitch clock to be implemented. Instead, players are suggesting that the time in between innings be limited. They have also suggested changes to the instant-replay system.
Meanwhile, Manfred is pushing for a pitch clock and limitations on visits to the mound. The league proposed similar measures a year ago, but couldn’t get the players to go along. This time around, Manfred may not be willing to wait for the players to get onboard.
Pitch clocks were introduced in double-A and triple-A in 2015. That gives some major leaguers experience playing with one. However, a majority of players would need to make the adjustment in the middle of their careers. In this sense, it’s easy to understand why the players don’t want to go along with such a rule change right now.
It may be better for baseball to continue using a pitch clock in the minors and allow the effects of that clock to have a trickle-up effect. Pitchers will adjust to the clock in the minors and get accustomed to pitching at that pace. At a certain point, a majority of big league pitchers and hitters will have experience with a pitch clock in the minors and pace of play will start to improve naturally.
However, Manfred doesn’t appear willing to wait that long. He could implement new rules with the approval of only the owners. There is another owners meeting on February 1, at which point Manfred could push, without the approval of the players, to implement a pitch clock for the 2018 season.