Take Me Out To The Ballgame: Major League Baseball’s Pitch Clock Experiment Is Bringing Fans Back

With the 2023 MLB season now in full swing, most sources, including fans and pundits alike, seem to be agreed: the pitch clock experiment is working.

Two months into the MLB calendar, we have begun to have enough data to review the revolutionary new rules imposed on the game’s 2023 season. While changes are not very likely to be made to these new rules midseason, conversations will already be taking place to determine whether or not to carry them forward into next season and beyond. At the start of the season, especially throughout spring training, hardcore baseball fans and analysts were dead against changes to the rules, citing fears of watering down baseball or making the game unrecognisable. Ironically, in the time since, it seems to have done quite the opposite – propelling major facets of the game back to it’s heyday, both in terms of game quality and viewer engagement.

What is the Pitch Clock?

Put simply, a pitch clock is a timer used to regulate how long it takes the pitcher to toss the ball to the batter and/or how long it takes the batter to step up to the plate. After being trialled in the minor leagues, MLB made the decision to bring in a pitch clock for the 2023 season. Coming in, the pitch timer had cut the typical MiLB game length by around 26 minutes. The rule, which also places restrictions on throws to first base, has also led to more attempts to steal bases. In 2022, the number of steal attempts per game increased from 2.23 in 2019 to 2.83, with a success rate of 77%. Cutting needless downtime and quickening the tempo of the game was the main objective of the introduction of a pitch clock.

In defining the new pitch clock rule, Major League Baseball stated that there would be a 30 second timer between batters. Between pitches, there will be a 15 second timer with the bases empty and a 20 second timer with runners on base.

The Impact of the Pitch Clock

In a survey conducted by the Morning Consult, they found that MLB fans were more likely to watch a ballgame, with those that did tune in stating that the game was more enjoyable than in the past. Over 4 in 5 self described enthusiastic MLB fans (84%) and nearly 7 out of 10 self described MLB fans (69%) stated they are either “very interested” or “somewhat interested” in watching games that have adopted the new rules designed to speed up games.

Further to this, younger audiences are more engaged, too. According to the most recent survey, more than 2 in 5 Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 (45%) stated they are interested in watching speedier games, compared to 51% of all Americans overall.

Average game length is down to 2 hours and 37 minutes, representing the fastest length of game since 1984. During the 2022 season, the average game length was up to 3 hours and 5 minutes, an average that had remained solid since the 2014 season. This mirrors the change seen in MiLB.

As of April 26th, Major League Baseball attendance was up 5% compared with 2022. While the new rules may not be the only contributor to increased attendance – being another year removed from the COVID-19 pandemic will have undoubtedly increased public confidence in attending sporting events of any kind – the gains in television viewership suggest that they are the most likely reason.

What does MLB think so far?

In an interview recently conducted by MLB Network, MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, Morgan Sword spoke favourably of the impact to date, whilst praising the adjustments made by those directly involved with the sport.

“Players and umpires have adjusted beautifully. It’s amazing that habits that have been formed over decades have been changed within a matter of weeks. The game really looks a lot more today like it did in the 1970s and ’80s.”

MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, Morgan Sword

Although excited by the initial results, Sword noted that the true impact of the rule changes, including the pitch clock, will “take years to assess.”

Even the most staunch of traditionalists have come out in favour of the increased speed of the game. Most notably, George F. Will of the Washington Post wrote an opinion piece praising how the pitch clock has forced “6-foot-5 pitchers overwhelming the game with velocity” to deliver the ball with less build-up, reducing the monotonous impact of several innings without hits.

Not Everyone is Happy

The main criticism of made to date is that the pitch clock causes more injuries, as pitchers speed through their deliveries. On the Baseball Isn’t Boring podcast, Kenley Jansen, a very well known veteran declared that “people are getting worn out. You’re playing with somebody’s career and basically might blow out.” Max Scherzer also predicted injuries to pitchers would increase.

Viewed objectively, these claims don’t seem very likely. While pitchers may be extremely put out by these rules, no longer able to linger endlessly and devote extra time to accelerated delivery of the ball, it seems more likely that pitchers would naturally reduce the intensity of their play in line with the time constraints.

The numbers don’t agree with these detractors, either. According to analysis completed by The Score, the number of injured pitchers has gone up to 72 (from 69 last season) but time spend on injured reserve has decreased from 1138 to 1132. It’s hard to look at these numbers as anything different from normal variance between seasons but, perhaps, pitchers do just need more time to adjust their play.

There has also been some pushback from ballparks that have seen revenue decreases because of fewer concessions being bought. While lack of beer and hot dog consumption is indeed an unfortunate side effect of a faster game, perhaps this could lead to a resurgence for the lost art of beer vending. If fans don’t have time to leave the stands to get a drink, then bring the drink to them. If you beer it, they will… drink?

Don’t Turn Back the Clock

As a relative newcomer to the sport of baseball, the pitch clock and associated rules have breathed a breath of fresh air into Major League Baseball. For me, shorter games means putting my MLB TV subscription to good use and simply watching more baseball. During busy periods, I can take in parts of three or four games in a four hour period where I’d barely get the one game in last season. Casual fans want to see hits and homeruns, not long drawn out pitches and strikes.

For my money (and, apparently, many other people’s), the pitch clock has been a revelation. Long may it reign.

What are your opinions on the pitch clock? Have you watched more baseball this year? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

Sources: New York Times, Morning Consult, CBS Sports.

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