By Justin McIlwee/Indianapolis Indians
Drive to Chicago. Run a marathon. Watch Major League on TV with limited commercial interruption. These are things that, in 2014, could be accomplished in three hours or less.
What’s not included on the list? Watching a Major League Baseball game.
According to Baseball Prospectus, the average length of a Major League game last season ran three hours and 13 minutes. And as part of the new “Pace of Play” initiative, MLB has implemented a pitch clock for use at the top two levels in the Minor Leagues for the 2015 season.
The pitch clock limits the amount of time between innings to two minutes and 20 seconds and the time between pitches – barring a few exceptions – to 20 seconds.
For Indians pitching coach Stan Kyles, the advantage lies with those on the mound.
“I think it helps the pitchers,” Kyles said. “We were always getting on the pitchers, getting them to understand the importance of working fast, having a good tempo, not giving hitters a chance to recover from their quality pitches.”
Those concerns are more controllable in today’s game. As Kyles says, it’s all about controlling the “tempo.”
Hitters are often taught to control the tempo of the game; when a pitcher is pitching too fast, the batter steps out of the box to slow things down and break the pitcher’s rhythm. The new pitch clock, along with MLB’s “Batter’s Box” rule, doesn’t allow for such an open window.
Kyles furthers that a hitter has a routine and a pitcher can use the clock to take that routine away and make them uncomfortable at the plate.
Without revealing too much of his team’s strategy, Kyles suggested that slowing the tempo “has been taken away from (hitters) to a certain extent. If a pitcher understands that, and he works even faster than he normally does, then I would think it would be more of an advantage (over opposing batters).”
Another beneficiary of up-tempo? According to Kyles, the defense.
“It gives the defense a chance to get ready and (forces them) to stay alert.”
Tribe backstop Elias Diaz is in the same school of thought. Diaz says the pitch clock, while limiting the hitter’s time to make on-the-fly adjustments, still offers plenty of time for the defense to set up behind their pitcher.
“The pitcher has the ball, he looks for the signs and he throws the ball,” Diaz said in reference to a pitcher controlling the flow of the game. “He (can be) quick with the pitches.”
Or just as beneficial, according to Indians starter Adrian Sampson, slow with the pitches.
Sampson uses the clock to also help control and slow down the opposition’s running game. The right-hander contends that runners start leaning once the 20-second clock is nearing expiration, and may begin to cheat towards the next base on the timer’s final few ticks.
“If you’re coming set and it’s getting close, you can hold to pick off or hold to (make an) inside move to second base,” Sampson said.
Nearing the final week of the first month of the season, both the offense and defense will need to perfect their use of the clock, because beginning May 1 – when the Tribe hosts Lehigh Valley – those in violation will be charged with a ball or strike, dependent upon the offending party.
20 seconds, ready or not.
“It has arrived.”