On the clock: New timer will affect more than just pitchers
The new pitch clock is seen at Salt River Field Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Opening day will feature three of the biggest changes in baseball since 1969: Two infielders will be required to be on either side of second base, base size will increase to 18-inch squares from 15 and a pitch clock will be used. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
By Noah Trister in Sarasota
SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — As one of the game’s top prospects, Grayson Rodriguez will probably make his debut for the Baltimore Orioles pretty soon, and then the 23-year-old right-hander can begin adjusting to the big leagues.
In one respect, he has a critical head start: Rodriguez has plenty of experience with the pitch clock that was tested in the minors and will now be used in the majors.
“I was a big fan of it,” he said. “Obviously, it speeds up the game. As a pitcher, it’s kind of what you want. Big league hitters take a long time to get to the plate. That drives me crazy, so this pitch clock kind of expediting the process, I like it a lot.”
Not everyone is as sanguine about the new timers — and whether you’re a pitcher, a catcher, a hitter or a baserunner, there’s no hiding from this rule change. Of all of baseball’s tweaksunder Commissioner Rob Manfred, the pitch clock might be the one that affects the most players.
The clocks will be positioned behind the plate and beyond the outfield, where pitchers and hitters can easily see them. They’ll count down from 30 seconds between batters. Between pitches, it will be 15 seconds with nobody on and 20 if there’s a baserunner. The pitcher must start his delivery before the clock expires. After a pitch, the clock starts again when the pitcher has the ball back, the catcher and batter are in the circle around home plate, and play is otherwise ready to resume.
So efficient communication between the pitcher and catcher is important, because the clock is ticking. The batter has a responsibility, too. He needs to be in the box and alert to the pitcher with at least eight seconds on the clock. Batters can call time once per plate appearance, stopping the countdown.
“You kind of have to shorten your routine up to the plate, while I guess cleaning out the box or talking to the umpire or the catcher,” said Atlanta outfielder Michael Harris II, last year’s National League Rookie of the Year. “I kind of went through it in Double-A, so I kind of know how that works and how it can speed up the game, but I guess it takes some getting used to.”
The goal is indeed to speed up play, specifically by limiting the parts of the game fans find particularly tedious.
According to Major League Baseball, the pitch timer reduced nine-inning games by a whopping 25 minutes last year in the minors, from 3 hours, 3 minutes in 2021 to 2:38. And other stats like runs per game, batting average and the rate of hit batters were essentially unchanged.
“The games were shortened, but not at the expense of game play,” said Joe Martinez, a former big league pitcher who is now MLB’s vice president for on-field strategy. “What was really removed from the game was that dead time — pitchers walking around the mound, batters fixing their batting gloves, taking extra pitches in the bullpen, walking in from there.”
Games early in the season, in the second week, included an average of 1.73 violations. By week 24, that figure was down to 0.41. When surveyed, about 90% of both pitchers and position players said they adjusted to the pitch timer within about a month. If big leaguers get used to it that quickly, they should be ready around the end of spring training.
Still, there’s a difference between compliant minor leaguers and big league veterans who are used to a certain routine — and the amount of information available to major leaguers can make pitcher-batter showdowns a mental battle in addition to a physical one.
“In this game, it’s all about strategizing and really finding ways to get guys out. I think that’s the unique thing about baseball nowadays,” Pittsburgh right-hander Vince Velasquez said. “There’s tons of talent that’s spread around the league, and hitters are doing their homework just as much as we’re doing ours, but I think it takes a little bit more time to kind of strategize and find ways to incorporate those things.”
Velasquez doesn’t like the pitch clock, and his teammate, catcher Kevin Plawecki, has concerns about the punishments.
“I feel like when you start doing automatic strikes, automatic balls, automatic runners advancing to bases, automatic runs scoring possibly, just based off of a step off, or a pickoff, to me I think that just changes the integrity of the game,” Plawecki said.
When a pitcher fails to throw a pitch in time, the penalty is an automatic ball. When a batter isn’t ready in time, it’s an automatic strike. The clock would be easy to circumvent if the pitcher could simply step off the rubber or throw a pickoff to stall for time. To eliminate that loophole, pitchers are only allowed two disengagements per plate appearance. Pickoff attempts count toward that limit.
The clock resets on a disengagement. After a pitcher has used his two disengagements, he can still attempt a pickoff, but it better be successful. If the baserunner gets back safely, a balk is assessed and the runner advances.
The restriction on pickoff throws serves two purposes. It limits a tedious aspect of the game — fans sure are quick to boo pickoff attempts — and it encourages aggressive baserunning in a sport that’s increasingly defined by home runs and strikeouts.
In the minor league test run, stolen base attempts went up from 2.23 per game in 2019 to 2.81 last year. The success rate improved from 68% to 78%.
“Any time they implement a new rule or something, you think you know what’s going to happen, and then people kind of weaponize it to their advantage,” said Philadelphia shortstop Trea Turner, who has 230 career steals with an 85% success rate. “Hopefully it’s more stolen bases for everybody — just makes it more exciting.”
MLB has made other changes in recent years to reduce the time fans spend waiting — limiting mound visits, for example, or sending the batter to first base immediately on an intentional walk.
Those rules, however, affect a limited number of situations. Even the automatic runner on second base — a drastic invention, to be sure — only comes into play in extra innings. The pitch clock, on the other hand, will be in effect from start to finish every game.
The hope is that players can adjust well enough that obeying the clock becomes second nature. Perhaps some of the more skeptical voices will even start to appreciate it.
“Maybe I’ll like it, maybe it won’t be as big of a change as I think,” Plawecki said. “I don’t anticipate it really being a huge issue, but it’s something we’re all going to have to be obviously cognizant of.”
Follow Noah Trister at www.twitter.com/noahtrister
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Gauld nets winner as Whitecaps beat CF Montreal to claim Canadian Championship
VANCOUVER — Ryan Gauld scored the matchwinner off a penalty in the 65th minute as the Vancouver Whitecaps beat CF Montreal 2-1 to ensure the Canadian Championship trophy stays on the West Coast for another year.
Montreal scored its lone goal in the 83rd minute after Vancouver defender Tristan Blackmon failed to clear the ball in his team’s box, allowing Montreal forward Sunusi Ibrahim to tuck it past goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka.
The Whitecaps opened the scoring 57 minutes in off an error from Montreal goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois, which allowed striker Brian White to slot the ball home.
It’s the second straight year the Whitecaps have claimed the Canadian Championship.
Up until the breakthrough goal, Vancouver had been denied by Sirois’s several acrobatic saves, including one where he stopped what looked like a sure goal with his feet mid-dive.
The Whitecaps outshot Montreal 20-9 with the Quebec side leaving it until late to threaten Takaoka’s goal.
Canada men’s head coach John Herdman presented the Best Young Canadian Player Award to midfielder Ali Ahmed, who missed the match as he continues his recovery from a concussion.
Canada Soccer interim general secretary and former national team player Jason de Vos presented the George Gross Most Valuable Player Award to Julian Gressel, who recorded an assist on White’s opener.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.
The Canadian Press
Nevada revisits Oakland Athletics stadium plan in special legislative session
This rendering provided by the Oakland Athletics on May 26, 2023, shows a view of their proposed new ballpark at the Tropicana site in Las Vegas. The Nevada Legislature is set to convene Wednesday, June 7, for a special legislative session to consider whether to provide $380 million in public financing for a stadium that would host the Oakland Athletics on the Las Vegas Strip. (Courtesy of Oakland Athletics via AP, File)
By Gabe Stern in Carson City
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The Oakland Athletics’ search for a new home has drawn Nevada lawmakers into a special legislative session Wednesday to weigh whether the state should cover $380 million of the $1.5 billion stadium planned for the Las Vegas Strip.
The public funding would mainly come from $180 million in transferable tax credits and $120 million in county bonds. Backers have pledged that the creation of a special tax district around the proposed stadium would generate enough money to pay off those bonds and interest. The plan would not directly raise taxes.
The A’s would not owe property taxes for the publicly owned stadium. Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, would also contribute $25 million in credit toward infrastructure costs.
The proposed 30,000-seat stadium would be the smallest in Major League Baseball.
The Legislature adjourned Monday after its 120-day, biennial session with disputes over one of the five major budget bills that funds capital improvement projects. On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo held a special legislative session to pass that bill.
Lombardo’s office had introduced the stadium financing bill with less than two weeks left in the regular session. It is unclear how many days the second special session will last.
Special sessions are fairly common in Nevada’s Legislature, which lasts for four months every other year. There have been seven since 2013 for a variety of reasons — pandemic protocols,statewide redistricting, budget disputes and approval for $750 million in public funding to help build Allegiant Stadium when the Oakland Raiders moved to Las Vegas.
The A’s have been looking for a home to replace Oakland Coliseum, where the team has played since arriving from Kansas City for the 1968 season. The team previously sought to build a stadium in Fremont, California, as well as San Jose and finally the Oakland waterfront — all ideas that never materialized.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said that a vote on the Oakland Athletics’ prospective move to Las Vegas could take place when owners meet June 13-15 in New York.
Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service that places journalists in newsrooms. Follow Stern on Twitter: @gabestern326.
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