Times (of baseball games) might be a changin’

Buck Showalter was debating PitchCom’s ability to streamline signals between pitchers and catchers this week when the Mets manager abruptly changed course — as he frequently does — to the time of the games themselves.

Showalter jokingly suggested that only two groups really cared about the length of games, mainly referees and reporters. Unless he’s lost a brutally long one. Then it was hard to take.

“I’m not a big guy when it comes to game time, as much as I’d like to get there,” Showalter said earlier this week. “For me it’s about the pace and the rhythm of the game.”

Which brings us to Carlos Carrasco’s gem Thursday as the Mets beat the Giants 6-2 in a decent 2 hours and 35 minutes. And for a manager who reportedly wasn’t concerned with such things, it was the first thing Showalter mentioned at his post-game press conference.

“How long did that take, 2:35?” Showalter said. “What are you going to do with yourself for the rest of the night?”

Thursday was exhibit A of what Major League Baseball envisions in the near future, and with greater frequency once the pace of play rules already in place in the minor leagues are increased to the big ones, ideally for the 2023 season. Commissioner Rob Manfred pushed for a pitch clock for much of the last decade, and the experimental phase in the Minors produced the desired effect in the first two weeks of the season.

This year uses a 14 second pitch clock with empty sockets and an 18 second clock with runners. As of April 17, based on a total of 132 games, the average duration of a nine-inning game is 2:39, compared to 2:59 in untimed games this season. A year ago, a nine-inning game without a clock lasted 3:03.

On Friday, the average duration for a nine-inning game in 430 major-league-level games was 3:06, according to baseball-reference.com. A year ago it was 3:10, the longest in history.

And when was the last time, you might ask, that an MLB game averaged 2:39 as currently recorded this season in the Minors? That was in 1985. The following season it jumped to 2:44 and sped up quite a bit from there.

So far, these are very promising statistics for minors. But the pitch clock as it is currently being designed also has significant disadvantages. A batsman must be ready to bat nine seconds before the timer or it will be counted as a bat. If a pitcher fails to deliver the ball before the clock runs out, he is saddled with a ball. To date, there have been 259 infractions, 73 by the batters and 186 by the pitchers.

Despite concerns about pitch clock affecting offense in one way or another, this seems minimal so far. This year, games using the clock have averaged 5.11 runs, 15.9 hits and a .240 BA. Last season it was 5.11, 16.5 and .247 respectively. Home runs decreased slightly from 2.9 to 2.7, strikeouts increased from 25.4% to 26.0% and walks increased from 10.2% to 11%.

MLB’s implementation of pickoff limits also appears to have produced the desired results, increasing both the number of stolen base attempts and the success rate. Under this rule, pitchers are allowed to dislodge the rubber twice during each plate appearance with a runner on base. All subsequent disengagements must withdraw the runner or the pitcher will be baled.

As of April 17, games using both the timer and pickoff limits averaged 2.97 stolen base attempts with an 80% success rate. Subtracting the timer, the attempts dropped to 2.71 with the success rate staying the same. Last season, when neither timers nor pickoff limits were in effect, the average was 2.51 attempts with a 75% success rate.

That’s a drastic difference to the MLB. On Friday, there were an average of 0.56 Stolen base attempts per game with a 72.1% success rate. In 2021, teams averaged just 1.20 tries, the lowest total in a season since 1964.

At the end of this winter’s lively, drawn-out CBA negotiations, there were plans to delay those rule changes to 2023 based on the newly established approval process. While the Players Association has traditionally reset the pitch clock – believing it was too radical an adjustment for pitchers – the new rule change system allows only a 45-day heads-up from MLB (from a year) in connection with review by an 11-member committee consisting of four active players, six members of MLB and one umpire.

Short jumps

• According to coach Aaron Boone, the Yankees will not suffer a competitive disadvantage for the May 2 trip to Toronto as he anticipates the roster will be fully vaccinated. The same cannot be said for the Red Sox, however, as their AL East rivals will have a number of players unable to cross the line this week, including unvaccinated starter Tanner Houck, who had his turn at Rogers Center on Tuesday. Boston manager Alex Cora, who tested positive Wednesday and did not travel to Tampa Bay with the team, has previously said Houck is not alone among the team’s anti-vax crowds, but those remaining names will not be released until they need to put together their travel list for Toronto. The Red Sox were among six teams that fell short of the 85% vaccination threshold last season, but a handful got the chance over the winter, including three-time All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

• Japanese phenomenon Roki Sasaki, a 20-year-old right-hander for the Chiba Lotte Marines, is hoping for a perfect Sunday. Unbelievable, for the third time in a row. Sasaki threw a perfect game on April 10, reportedly the first for the NPB in 28 years, and breathed 13 times in a row (19 total) and went for eight more perfect innings (14 Ks) the next time, but was pulled after 102 pitches . Heading into Sunday, Sasaki retired 52 straight hitters. As for meeting him in the US, word has it that Sasaki will likely be years away from his post for MLB teams, and under current rules, foreign players will have to wait until age 25 to avoid the money restrictions to be subjected to the bonus pool.

• That’s how the Giants heated up the Nationals on Friday night, to the point where Alcides Escobar and Victor Robles went on the bench to yell at them in the ninth inning of SF’s 7-1 win. what was the crime Not a bean ball or even a monstrous racket hit. The Nats were furious that Thairo Estrada was trying to score from first base on Brandon Crawford’s hit-and-run single with a six-run lead in the ninth. Estrada was thrown on the plate to end the inning anyway – problem solved, right? — but the Nats kept barking about the Giants breaking an “unwritten rule”. Such behavior is more than ridiculous. This isn’t little league. What should Estrada do? Stop on the third, so the inning goes on and the Giants have more scoring chances? All the Giants did was play the game correctly. As for the bottom-ranked Nats who were world champions three years ago, they should know better than to fret over an opposing team for winning baseball.

• MLB is long overdue to find a legal way to make baseball stickier after repeatedly cracking down on banned sticky substances. With the miserable April weather, most pitchers have complained about not being in control of baseball, as rosin bag feels little better than talcum powder in cold temperatures that have dropped into the 30s and 40s. If MLB doesn’t make balls with built-in stickiness, then come up with an approved substance. Some pitchers have suggested a sticky rag on the back of the mound. One such conversation between MLB and the union began early in the offseason but was cut short as contentious CBA negotiations dragged on. Max Scherzer carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning in miserable conditions on Tuesday, but as the night got colder, the ball became increasingly problematic.

“When you’re not sweating, it felt like throwing a ball,” said Scherzer after the start on Tuesday. “Everyone overran everything. It’s just part of the game. It’s just frustrating.”

Dangerous too, as the Mets can attest after both Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor were drilled in the face shield during the season-opening series in DC. As the weather warms up this should be less of a problem, but why count on it when the problem is easily fixed?

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