MLB Pace-of-Play Changes Would Be Problematic, but Good for the Game

Dirk Hayhurst@@TheGarfooseNational MLB ColumnistNovember 14, 2014

AP Images

Fact: Baseball players are natural whiners. Of course, I know this because I'm a whiner myself, and baseball was a perfect fit for me. 

Seriously, think about how much whining we do in the modern game and how ridiculous it is.

A guy steps out of the box at the wrong time, and the pitcher whines about being disrespected. A batter tosses his bat the wrong way after going deep, and the opposing team whines about baseball heresy. A pitch comes too far inside, and there is whining about how it's a personal message worthy of retaliation. Someone plays with too much enthusiasm, and there is whining about the need to "respect the game."

Managers whine when opposing players steal if the score is lopsided. Shifting the defense causes whining about disrespecting a hitter's ability. Not throwing fastballs makes for whining about how cowardly a pitcher is.

Good God, the crybaby, bellyaching, red-bottom-whimper-fest that takes place in today's game is ridiculous! Almost as ridiculous as the amount of time it takes to actually play the game, even without all the whining.

Baseball is getting slower. So slow, in fact, that Major League Baseball has chosen to test out some methods of expediting the play process during this year's Arizona Fall League.

And, wouldn't you know it, some of the players don't like them. Toronto Blue Jays prospect Dalton Pompey had this to say on the changes, courtesy of Alexis Brudnicki of Baseball America:

I feel like it's going to throw off the rhythm because guys have their own rhythm and take deep breaths, practice swings, have their routines. It's just going to make everybody so generic and I feel like that's taking away what the game has been all about for however many years.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 13:  Dalton Pompey of the World Team during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Target Field on July 13, 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Consider this: Over the last 10 years, the average length of a baseball game rose from just over two hours and 40 minutes to three hours and eight minutes—nearly a 30-minute increase in duration.

If the average major league game continues along this trajectory, it will be knocking on the door of four hours soon! Ugh. Four hours as the average pace means a Yankees/Red Sox game will feel less like a baseball game and more like a cricket match. 

Major League Baseball is testing a series of game-expediting mechanisms to see if the speed of play can be improved. These mechanisms include things like limiting the number of mound visits, the amount of time a team can take between innings and time to warm up pitchers.

But the most controversial idea has been implementing (and actually enforcing) a pitch clock to make sure pitchers do what their name implies in a timely fashion.

The pitch clock has been a sticking point with some fall-ball participants, and I can understand why. You've probably heard how hitting is all about rhythm and timing, and pitching is all about throwing off that timing.

In fact, there is a good chance you've heard the phrase "rhythm and timing" so many times that you may not actually know what it refers to since it's used so loosely. For the record, "rhythm and timing" does not mean the pace of play. It means the batter's timing of the pitcher's pitches and said batter's ability to adjust to pitch and delivery speeds in relation to his swing. 

This is important to understand since some think that putting a clock on a pitcher is going to give the batter an advantage. They think pitchers will have to get on the mound faster and wont be able to adjust their timing as liberally, thus destroying their ability to throw off the batter.

But that's not accurate. A batter does not stand at attention, waiting for a pitcher to get on the mound, counting down some internal clock. 

If you take an abundance of time on the mound, there is no guarantee that the hitter will be lulled into some kind of trance. In truth, it may be more apt to say that taking your sweet time on the mound will lull your own fielders to sleep.

Dirk Hayhurst with the Padres
Dirk Hayhurst with the PadresLenny Ignelzi/Associated Press/Associated Press

When I pitched, I had to pitch to contact. My fielders were a big part of my success, so I did everything I could to make sure they were ready to play their role. I pitched as quickly as I could—without flying out of control—to ensure they didn't feel dead on their feet when the ball came.

Using a current pitcher as an example, Mark Buehrle pitches very successfully working at a desperate pace. So much so that many players and pundits around the game feel more young pitchers should emulate him. Buehrle's pace not only helps keep his defense on its guard, but it speeds up the hitter's tempo.

If you ask most hitters, it's harder to get the body to slow down when it wants to go fast than it is to ask it to speed up and give into simple reaction-based hitting—an approach some hitters swear by, captured in the phrase, "see ball, hit ball." 

BOSTON, MA - JULY 30: Mark Buehrle #56 of the Toronto Blue Jays tips his cap to fans as he leaves the game in the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 30, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Buehrle has good baseball tempo—different from the rhythm-and-timing factor which is dictated by pitch speed, not mound-rest speed. But don't worry, there will be no quiz at the end of this article. 

The bottom line is this: Moving faster between pitches won't automatically give hitters an edge. If anything, faster delivery rates will mean more hitters calling timeout so they can slow the tempo back down—another thing baseball is going to crack down on, which means they can get yelled at instead of the pitcher. 

Yet, despite the evidence to support a faster pace helping pitchers, many still insist that moving faster because there is a clock telling them to will make them feel "rushed" and result in failure.

Getting rushed on the mound usually happens when pitchers are stressed or things are going bad and time feels like it's sped up. The truth is, baseball already has rules to dictate pitching-delivery speeds. They're just never enforced, so players don't worry about them.

Presently, pitchers can talk to their inner child as long as they need to before they get back on the rubber. If there was a clock, getting rushed is a real factor—at least real to a pitcher who is accustomed to pitching whenever the feeling suits him because no one has ever made him speed up.

However, making sure the game allows for a pitcher to center his chi is a luxury, not a necessity. Time doesn't change simply because you're aware of it. You do. Control your emotions (something a good pitcher should do anyway), and you'll be fine. 

Now that we've gotten this crash course in baseball-timing jargon out of the way, it shouldn't come as any surprise that players are resistant to changes that may disrupt what they are comfortable with, especially when they believe that comfort is paramount to their success.

But this isn't the first time baseball has been asked to change something comfort-related—ironic since players always act like it's the first time, even when they've seen the game change by way of collision rules and instant replay just months before. 

I think what makes baseball players such great marks for being called whiners is how short their memory is and how they'll fight things that could help them just because they're different. Some will even go so far as to say that any change will result in the game not being played the way it was meant to be. As if it was not just a game but an act of worship that can only be accepted if performed in a certain way.

Nonsense. Just stop and think about it. In a 162-game schedule, who wouldn't want the game to move faster? Who wouldn't want more rest?

Gosh, when I played, every time a game ended in two hours, we made note of it, stormed back into the locker room and cheered, "Two-hour game! Why can't they all be like this?!"

Well, why can't they be?

Dirk Hayhurst is a former pitcher who spent nearly a decade in professional baseball between MiLB and MLB. He is also an accomplished author and has appeared on Baseball America, ESPN, TBS' MLB postseason broadcasts, Sportsnet Canada and more.


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