On May 14, the Colorado Rockies and Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes both played baseball games. The Rockies game started at 6:10 p.m. MDT and the Isotopes started at 6:35 p.m. MDT. Each game featured 14 combined runs — the Rockies beat the Kansas City Royals 10-4 and the Isotopes lost to the Sugar Land Space Cowboys (HOU) 12-2. For the longest time, both games appeared to be approximately in the same spot at the same time (e.g., the bottom of the sixth with one or two outs), but some high-scoring late innings meant that the Isotopes game would end after the Rockies game.
However, at the conclusion of that game, there was one stat that stood out above all the rest: time of game. The Rockies game lasted two hours and 39 minutes, while the Isotopes game lasted two hours and 41 minutes. Both were high-scoring, 14-run affairs — although the Rockies didn’t have to bat in the ninth while the Isotopes did — but they ended up lasting the same amount of time. The previous night, the Isotopes game lasted two hours and 19 minutes (an 8-2 victory over the Space Cowboys).
So what’s the difference here? The pitch clock.
The pitch clock made its Triple-A debut this year and is on the brink of breaking into the majors. Hitters and pitchers get 14 seconds between pitches if there are no men on base and 18 seconds if there are. In both instances, the batter has until the nine-second mark to be ready; otherwise, the umpire can call a strike. The clock disappears once the pitcher starts his windup and if it hits zero, the umpire can call a ball. The cycle starts over once the catcher throws the ball back to the pitcher.
There are also 30 seconds between batters, and pitchers can reset the clock by stepping off the rubber. However, they only get two chances per at-bat before they have to throw to the plate. According to USA Today, the introduction of the pitch clock lowered average game times from two hours and 59 minutes to two hours and 39 minutes.
So far, players have different reactions to the introduction of the pitch clock.
“I think with runners on, it’s a perfect time; but with nobody on, it’s pretty quick,” said Ryan Feltner. “Sometimes some of the guys on the team have been saying that they ended up throwing a pitch that they didn’t really want to throw just so they don’t get called for a ball.”
Chad Smith said he likes that it speeds up the game (a sentiment echoed by other players), but doesn’t like when it determines an at-bat.
“Say it’s a 3-2 count, the pitch clock goes to zero and they punch the guy out without a pitch being throw or a guy takes a free pass if the hitter didn’t get in the box before he was supposed to or if the pitcher didn’t deliver the pitch when he’s supposed to,” Smith said. “I like the aspect of it speeding up the game, but for it to determine an at-bat in a big situation — which it has for us and against us this year – I’m not a fan of that.”
From a position player standpoint, Brian Serven has the unique perspective of working directly with pitchers and also working as a hitter.
“The pitch clock basically eliminated routines in Triple-A,” Serven said. “Up here, most guys have a routine – before they step into the box they redo their batting gloves, they look at the foul pole, they do things like that – so down there it just basically eliminated those routines and sped up the game, but didn’t really change game planning at all.”
From a hitter’s point of view, though, Serven is not a fan.
“[Without the pitch clock in the big leagues] I’ve been able to get back into my routine,” he said. “I like to adjust my batting gloves and take a deep breath but I wasn’t [able to] in Triple-A. I would foul a pitch off and then get right back in the box. There was no reset button there, so it’s nice to have a reset button.”
Both Serven and Feltner also noticed a difference in how they react between Triple-A and the big leagues, since they’ve had experience at both levels. Feltner especially found himself getting a little antsy during his first start back in Philadelphia on April 27.
“I was working a lot slower because the hitter was just taking a long time to get in the box,” he said. “That was more of a shock to the system than it was just to get the ball back and go like we do [in Albuquerque].”
Serven has also felt himself getting a little antsy with hitters at times without the pitch clock keeping them honest.
“I mean, some guys take a really long time to get in the box,” he said. “I mean, everybody’s kind of like ‘let’s go!’ but there are certain pitchers that take a long time in between their pitches and they have certain routines — they take their hat off, redo their hair, put it back on and then grab the ball
“But I don’t mind,” he continued. “It’s the hitter’s at-bat, it’s the pitcher’s pitch, so they can take as much time as they need, in my opinion.”
Luckily, though, it doesn’t seem to have really affected any of them and they’ve made the necessary adjustments.
“The only reason that I think it would affect me is if my catcher and I aren’t on the same page with a runner at second,” Smith said. “With men on you get a little more time and especially at second, you’re going through multiple signs and if you shake them then you’ve got to get the signs again so it definitely speeds it up. It’s more difficult to hold runners because the runner can use the clock to his advantage just as a pitcher can to his.”
“I liked that the games are shorter,” quipped Serven. “I didn’t like it while I was hitting.”