While the larger MLB bases may have grabbed all the headlines in the initial flurry of news about the league’s rule changes, another new rule has also led to major changes. Although the season hasn’t even started yet, the pitch clock that was designed to make games shorter and keep pitchers from extending time between pitches is now leading to strikeouts that feel almost unsettlingly fast.
In one March 2 game between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates, an entire at-bat took just about 20 seconds. The at-bat in question came during the second inning when Wandy Peralta struck Tucupita Marcano in just three pitches. The strikeout was likely influenced by the pitch clock, although these pitches were atypically fast, even given the new rule. You can watch the full at-bat below:
The new pitch clock rule is designed to speed up the play of the game, ensuring that pitchers return to the mound and begin their motion within a reasonable timeframe. There’s a 15-second timer for pitchers when there are no runners on base, and a 20-second timer when there are runners on base. The rule explicitly stipulates that pitchers must start their pitching motion before the timer runs out, or they’ll be charged with an automatic ball. Batters, meanwhile, must be in the batter’s box by the time the timer hits eight seconds, or they’ll be charged with an automatic strike.
Mound visits, injury timeouts, and offensive timeouts do not count against the pitcher. The timer also resets if the pitcher makes a pick-off attempt, but the pitcher is limited to two pick-off attempts per mound appearance. If they make a third and it’s unsuccessful, the runner automatically advances a base. The umpire also has a special dispensation that allows them to provide players with extra time in circumstances where they might need it.
This rule change was one of several that the MLB made in an attempt to revitalize the game in the face of dwindling crowds and audiences. The pitch clock is designed to make games shorter. It may not seem like pitchers take too long between pitches, but now they have been explicitly prevented from doing so. The same is true of the change in the base sizes. Stealing bases used to be a regular occurrence in the major leagues, but in part because of how effective pitchers have become at picking them off, steals have become less common. Larger bases means that there is less distance between them (4.5 inches less to be exact), which should mean that it is easier to steal them.
Only time will tell whether that base size change makes a measurable impact, but one thing’s for sure: the pitch clock already is. It would have been quite rare to see an entire at-bat last just 20 seconds in the majors before, and it may still be moving forward. What both pitchers and batters know now, though, is that it’s not impossible for the game to be played at a much faster pace.