Major League Baseball
The MLB pitch clock rocks: How it works and why it will be great for baseball
Major League Baseball

The MLB pitch clock rocks: How it works and why it will be great for baseball

Updated Sep. 13, 2022 4:28 p.m. ET

By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

America’s pastime is timeless, but it’s time to time it. The pitch clock is coming, and frankly, we should all be thrilled.

Last week, Major League Baseball announced three significant rule changes for the 2023 season: the addition of a pitch clock, the banning of the shift and the implementation of larger bases. The end of extreme defensive shifting and the new, pizza-box-sized bags are notable, but those will likely have a smaller impact on gameplay than the pitch clock, which seeks to shrink overall game length and enliven action by reducing the amount of time between pitches.

The clock is controversial. It’s polarizing. Traditionalists have gestured aimlessly toward baseball history, claiming that the sport’s clockless-ness is a fundamental part of its charm. Skeptical pro ballplayers have derided the clock for further complicating their already difficult jobs. Everyday fans have highlighted those clips of minor-league hitters being called out on strike three for stepping out of the box, quote-tweeting such outrageous videos with sharp taglines like "this isn’t baseball" and "what a joke."


But the haters couldn’t be more wrong. The pitch clock rules.

Earlier this season, I journeyed to a Triple-A game between the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and the Buffalo Bison to see it for myself. Like on any first date, I arrived wary and skeptical. But by the end of the evening, I left Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, madly in love and excited about the future.

Let me tell you why.

How does it work?

Eight months from now, when Jacob deGrom toes the rubber for the Orioles on Opening Day 2023 after opting out of his Mets contract, he’ll have only 15 seconds to throw a pitch. That’s the new standard for pitchers when the bases are empty. With runners on, that number moves to 20 seconds. If the clock reaches zero before a hurler chucks the pill, it’s an automatic ball.

As for the batters, they must be in the box, ready to rock, with eight seconds remaining. If they’re not, an automatic strike will be called. Hitters are allowed one clock-resetting timeout per plate appearance.

With runners on base, pitchers are allowed just two "disengagements" from the rubber, meaning they may pick off or step off a total of two times. A disengagement resets the pitch clock, but if a pitcher leaves the rubber for a third time and doesn’t pick a runner off, the runner is awarded the next base.

Why does this rule?

1. It shortens game length.

Technically, the pitch clock has been in use in the minors for a few years, but 2021 was the first season in which it was seriously enforced. As a result, average game length is down a whopping 26 minutes, according to, which is exactly what I saw in Lehigh Valley.

Buffalo erupted for nine runs in the top of the first against the IronPigs, batting around to force multiple time-sucking mound visits and a first-inning pitching change. While that frame probably felt eternal for IronPigs starter Ricardo Sánchez and his eight earned runs, it actually took just 22 minutes.

Average MLB game length has skyrocketed over the past 50 years, from 2:30 in 1978 to 3:07 so far this season. That figure is down slightly from last year, when the average game took 3:11, the longest in MLB history.

Epic back-and-forth battles such as Game 5 of the 2017 World Series aside, there’s no need for a four-hour regular-season baseball game. Hardcore hardball heads like you and me would watch an eight-hour game — we did that once — but asking the average fan to commit that much time in their day to baseball is unrealistic.

And MLB isn’t just competing against other sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA and MLS. It’s also competing against other entertainment options. You could watch two Avengers movies in four hours or a thousand TikToks or all 12 episodes of Tim Robinson’s hit series "I Think You Should Leave." A shorter game better positions baseball to compete for fans’ attention.

2. It speeds up game play.

This is the pitch clock’s most important contribution. Shortening game length is fine and dandy, but it’s also pointless if it doesn’t enhance the product on the field. By forcing hurlers and hitters to operate faster, the clock shreds the dead time between pitches, trimming the fat to make the game more enthralling on a pitch-to-pitch basis.

Too many MLB games right now are like a great movie with a runtime 30 minutes too long. You leave the theater/stadium satisfied but feel a pang of boredom during the handful of unnecessary scenes that could have been left on the cutting room floor. The clock creates a much better rhythm and a much livelier style of play, forcing fans to keep their eyes on the field (and not their phones).

In Lehigh Valley, my internal baseball-watching clock needed a few innings to adjust to the heightened pace. Multiple times I was nose-deep in my phone or mid-nacho bite when a batter ripped one into the gap. But eventually, I adjusted and enjoyed.

Think of the clock like a ruthlessly efficient editor or that friend who makes sure the group leaves the Airbnb on time. It’s a kindergarten teacher who keeps the class focused on the task at hand and the music they play to wrap up awards show speeches. People — baseball players included — cannot be expected to change behavior without structure and constraints, and the clock provides exactly that.

3. Steals will go up.

This one is simple: Steals are good, and steals are down, and MLB wants more steals. The calculus of the modern game correctly posits that steals are usually not worth trying. Why risk getting thrown out at second base if the hitter will strike out, walk or hit a home run?

But with a limitation on the number of possible pickoffs, runners should be able to get a better jump more often, which in turn should incentivize teams to be more aggressive on the basepaths.

4. Pitchers won’t throw as hard.

A pitch is a full-effort, whole-body physical movement. Right now, pitchers have as much time as they want to rest between their "exercises." That allows them to catch their breath as much as possible before their next blast of energy. But less time between pitches means less recovery time means pitchers will get tired more quickly and will presumably throw with less velocity.

Why is this a good thing? Pitchers are just too darn nasty right now. The inventors of baseball who made the mound-to-plate distance 60 feet, 6 inches couldn’t have conceived of a 100 mph fastball. Pitchers’ stuff across the league right now is so good that hitters are incentivized to sell out for a long ball, crossing their fingers for a mistake pitch they can hit out. The impact of the pitch clock will tip the competitive scales back toward hitters just a bit.

5. Players will learn to live with it.

Almost every single minor-league player I spoke with in May was vocal about his intense hatred of the pitch clock. Their concerns centered on a feeling of "rushedness." Hitters and pitchers alike griped about how the increase in pace made their jobs more difficult and benefited the other group. The MLBPA has already released a statement opposing the rule changes and MLB’s unilateral implementation of them.

Ballplayers are human beings. As such, they tend to dislike change.

But some of those aforementioned minor-league players have already adapted, learning to live with and even love their new on-field companion. Big-leaguers will eventually follow suit. Pitch clock infractions have declined over the course of the 2022 minor-league season as players have adjusted and evolved. According to MLB, there were 0.45 clock violations per minor-league game last week, and the overwhelming majority didn’t drastically alter the outcome of a game.

Back in the 1930s, MLB was exclusively a daytime endeavor. Lighting technology hadn’t yet proven itself capable enough of illuminating a night game. And when the Cincinnati Reds announced plans to play the league’s first night game in 1935, players and executives voiced their concerns.

"There is no chance of night baseball ever being popular in the bigger cities," Clark Griffith, a former owner of the Washington Senators, once predicted. "People there are educated to see the best there is and will stand for only the best. High-class baseball cannot be played at night under artificial light."

In hindsight, that quote looks hilariously stupid. The technology advanced, the years rolled by, players adjusted, opinions changed, and night games became a ubiquitous part of the game. Expect the same with the pitch clock.

Sure, there will be some goofy moments in the first few months of next season. Some players will struggle to comply with the new clock, some videos will go viral, and some people will gripe. But over time, the bumps will be ironed out, and players will adjust to the new normal.

In a few years, the clock will be as ubiquitous as night games. So get excited, and start your watch.

Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ, is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.


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