Buck Showalter was discussing PitchCom’s ability to streamline the signals between pitcher and catcher 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 umpires and reporters. Unless he lost a brutally long one. Then it was rough to endure.
“I’m not a big guy about the time of game, as much as I’d like to get there,” Showalter said this past week. “I’m about the tempo and rhythm of game.”
Which brings us to Carlos Carrasco’s gem Thursday, when the Mets beat the Giants, 6-2, in a tidy 2 hours, 35 minutes. And for a manager who supposedly doesn’t dwell on such things, it was the first thing Showalter mentioned at his postgame news conference.
“What did that take, 2:35?” he said. “Now what do you do with yourself the rest of the night?”
Thursday was Exhibit A of what Major League Baseball envisions happening with greater frequency in the very near future once the pace-of-play rules already in effect at the minor-league level are bumped up to the majors, ideally for the 2023 season.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has been pushing for a pitch clock for much of the past decade, and the experimental phase in the minors yielded the desired effect through the first two weeks of the season.
This year, a 14-second pitch clock is being used with the bases empty and an 18-second clock with runner(s) on. Through April 17, based on a total of 132 games, the average duration of a nine-inning game was 2:39, compared with 2:59 in games this season without a timer. A year ago, with no clock, a nine-inning game lasted 3:03.
As of Friday, through 430 games at the major-league level, the average duration for a nine-inning game 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 it currently registers in the minors this season? That would be 1985. It jumped to 2:44 the following season and pretty much accelerated from there.
So far, those are very promising statistics in the minors. But the pitch clock, as currently designed, also carries significant penalties. A batter must be ready to hit with nine seconds left on the timer or he is assessed a strike. If a pitcher doesn’t deliver the ball before the clock expires, he’s saddled with a ball. To date, there were 259 violations, 73 on the batters and 186 on the pitchers.
Despite the concern about the pitch clock wildly impacting offense one way or the other, that seems to be minimal. This year, games with the clock have averaged 5.11 runs, 15.9 hits and a .240 batting average. Last season, it was 5.11, 16.5 and .247. The percentage of home runs dropped slightly from 2.9 to 2.7, strikeouts ticked up from 25.4% to 26.0% and walks went from 10.2% to 11%.
MLB’s implementation of the pickoff limits also seems to have produced the desired results, increasing both the number of stolen-base attempts and the success rate. Under this rule, pitchers are permitted to disengage from the rubber twice during each plate appearance with a runner on base. Any subsequent disengagements must retire the runner or the pitcher is charged with a balk.
Through April 17, in games using both the timer and pickoff limit, there was an average of 2.97 stolen-base attempts with an 80% success rate. Minus the timer, the attempts dropped to 2.71, with the success rate staying the same. Last season, with neither the timer nor pickoff limits in effect, the average was 2.51 attempts with a 75% success rate.
That’s a drastic difference from MLB. As of Friday, there was an average of 0.56 stolen-base attempts per game, with a 72.1% success rate. In 2021, teams averaged only 1.20 attempts, the lowest total in any season since 1964.
At the conclusion of this winter’s feisty, prolonged CBA negotiations, the plan was to punt these rule changes to 2023, based on the newly appointed process for approval. While the Players Association traditionally has pushed back on the pitch clock — believing it was too radical an adjustment for pitchers — the new system in place for rule changes allows for only a 45-day heads-up from MLB (down from a year) in conjunction with a review from an 11-person committee consisting of four active players, six members from MLB and one umpire.n Short hops
n According to manager Aaron Boone, the Yankees won’t be at any competitive disadvantage for the May 2 trip to Toronto as he expects the roster to be fully vaccinated.
The same can’t be said of the Red Sox, however. They will have a number of players who can’t cross the border this week, including unvaccinated starter Tanner Houck, who was on turn for Tuesday at Rogers Centre. Boston manager Alex Cora, who tested positive Wednesday and did not travel with the team to Tampa Bay, already has said Houck is not alone among the team’s anti-vax crowd, but those remaining names won’t be public until they have to put together their travel roster for Toronto.
The Red Sox were among six teams that did not reach the 85% vaccination threshold last season, but a handful did get the shot over the winter, including three-time All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
n Japanese phenom Roki Sasaki, a 20-year-old righthander for the Chiba Lotte Marines, is looking to stay perfect Sunday. Incredibly, for a third consecutive start.
Sasaki pitched a perfect game April 10, reportedly the first in 28 years for the NPB, whiffing 13 straight (19 overall), and followed that with eight perfect innings (14 strikeouts) the next time out before being pulled after 102 pitches. Heading into Sunday, Sasaki has retired 52 straight hitters.
As for seeing him in the States, word is Sasaki likely is years from being posted for MLB teams, and under the current rules, foreign players must wait until age 25 in order to not be subjected to bonus pool money restrictions.
n The Giants riled up the Nationals on Friday night to the point that Alcides Escobar and Victor Robles walked over to yell at the visitors’ dugout in the ninth inning of San Francisco’s 7-1 victory. What was the crime? Not a beanball, or even an egregious bat flip. The Nationals were irate that Thairo Estrada tried to score from first base on Brandon Crawford’s hit-and-run single with a six-run lead in the ninth.
Estrada was thrown out at the plate to end the inning — problem solved, right? — but the Nationals kept barking about the Giants violating an “unwritten rule.”
Such behavior is beyond ridiculous. This ain’t Little League. What is Estrada supposed to do? Stop at third? That way the inning continues and the Giants have even more chances to score. The Giants were doing nothing more than playing the game correctly. As for the last-place Nationals, who were world champs three years ago, they should know better than to get angry at an opposing team for playing winning baseball.
n MLB is long overdue in coming up with a legal way to make the baseball more tacky in the wake of their repeated crackdowns on banned sticky substances. With the miserable April weather, most pitchers have complained about having no grip on the baseball, as the rosin bag feels little better than talcum powder in cold temperatures that have plunged into the 30s and 40s. If MLB isn’t going to manufacture balls with built-in tackiness, then come up with an approved substance. Some pitchers have suggested a sticky rag at the back of the mound. Such a conversation started between MLB and the union early in the offseason but was abandoned as the contentious CBA negotiations dragged on.
Max Scherzer carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning Tuesday in miserable conditions, but as the night got colder, the ball became more of a problem.
“When you don’t have sweat, it felt like you were throwing a cue ball,” Scherzer said after Tuesday’s start. “Everybody was over-gripping everything. It’s just part of the game right now. It’s just frustrating.”
Also dangerous, as the Mets can attest after having both Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor drilled in the face guard during the season’s opening series in D.C. As the weather heats up, this should be less of an issue, but why rely on that when the problem can be easily fixed?