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Pitch clock not a hit in Triple-A

MiLBRule changes are never popular, and some MiLB players don’t like the pitch clock / pace of place guidelines implemented across the minors in 2022. But opinions vary based on the level of play–so maybe old dogs can’t learn new tricks.

We’re seeing various reports from the Triple-A level that players are dissatisfied with the pitch-clock experiment this season. The new pitch-clock rules aren’t exactly the simplest, to be sure. A 30-second clock runs between batters. If no runner is on base, a 14-second timer kicks in. If a runner is on base, an 18-second timer runs, and a pitcher is allowed to pickoffs or stepoffs per batter. A pitcher is penalized a called ball if they fail to deliver the ball within the time limit; if the hitter stalls things, an automatic strike is called. Finally, a batter is allowed a single timeout per at-bat.

Baseball purists both on and off the field pride themselves of participating in a game without a clock; in the past, games ran as fast or as slow as players and umps allowed. Some pitchers, like Jim Kaat, were renowned as fast workers; others, like Mike Hargrove and Steve Trachsel, earned reps as human rain delays.

With the new pitch-clock rules, there’s now a uniformity within baseball as to pace of play. If you’re an older player–say, the kind currently at Triple-A–you learned the game under the old rules. That’s leading to grumbling on teams like the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (International League), where 33-year-old Michael Mariot argued against the new rules after being penalized a called ball per the Morning Call:

Mariot said that instance highlights why Major League Baseball’s experimental rules in Triple-A should cease.

“In situations like that,” he said, “you have to be able to take a deep breath and collect yourself. [But] in those situations with the pitch clock, you can’t do that.

“It’s really frustrating because there are definitely some times when you need to take a little more time. You really are bearing down and then, boom, zero [on the pitch clock]. Ball four. Takes you out of the game.”

Similar grumblings came from older players from Minnesota Twins who spent time with the St. Paul Saints (International League) this year:

In fact, an informal survey of nearly every current Twins player who has suited up for the St. Paul Saints since the rules went into effect found unanimity over whether umpires should begin regulating the seconds between pitches at the major league level. To a man, they don’t think so — some more pointedly than others.

“My honest opinion? It’s the dumbest thing they’ve ever done,” lefthander Devin Smeltzer said. “I mean, it’s destroying the game.”

At lower levels, however, we can’t really discern that same level of grumbling. In the most recent Ballpark Digest podcast, Mick Gillispie (Double-A broadcaster) and Jesse Goldberg-Strassler (High-A broadcaster) agreed that the pitch clock was largely beneficial for the game, but perhaps needed some fine-tuning. Pitchers who began the 2021 season at Low-A–where the pitch clock was implemented–kept performing at a quicker pace after bring promoted to High-A despite the lack of a pitch clock in 2021, per Goldberg-Strassler’s informal calculations. (In other words, their internal clocks were calibrated to the faster pitch clock.) The pitch clock definitely makes a difference, per Great Lakes Loons (Midwest League) broadcaster Brad Tunney:

Most in the game acknowledge a pitch clock is an inevitability in Major League Baseball; the real issue is when it happens, not if it happens.

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