Thoughts On The Pitch Clock

Beat The Clock

You’ve probably seen or read any number of stories on how players, umpires, fans, and the media themselves will adjust to the clock. I wanted to offer my analysis and observations from watching plenty of games at Round Rock’s Dell Diamond and elsewhere in 2022.

Strange as it seems, players and umps may have the easiest task. The pitch clock has existed in upper minor league classifications since 2015, although it wasn’t enforced in its present form across all levels until 2022. Most players are already at least passingly familiar with the new rules. I analyzed lists of everyone who played in the Majors and minors in 2022 and found the following:

Number of MLB hitters in 2022: 694
Number who also played in MiLB: 475 (68% of all MLB hitters)
Number with 50+ PA in MLB and MiLB: 221 (32% of all MLB hitters)

Number of MLB pitchers in 2022: 872
Number who also pitched in MiLB: 591 (68% of all MLB pitchers)
Number with 10+ IP in MiLB and MLB: 300 (34% of all MLB pitchers)

The Rangers used 29 pitchers last year excluding Charlie Culberson. 23 threw at least one inning in the minors in 2022, and 15 of them threw at least ten. Similarly, 18 of Texas’s 26 hitters in 2022 also appeared in the minors, and 15 registered at least 100 plate appearances.

Assuming the rule is retained beyond 2023, the proportion of MLB players who will have worked under these conditions will quickly approach 100%. Admittedly, those who haven’t to date include many of baseball’s biggest names, but a significant number already have. 23% of MLB players with at least two wins above replacement in 2022 played in the minors last year.

My impression is that AAA umpires’ enforcement of the game clock was moderately strict but not punitive in 2022. Pitchers had plenty of time to retake the mound if involved in a fielding play. Hitters didn’t have to rush back to the box after running out a drive that landed foul. Pitchers could ask for a new ball, and occasionally something would happen to cause a pitcher to make a circular motion with his pitching hand, code for “restart the clock, pretty please.” Much of the time, these requests were granted. What pitchers couldn’t do was get set, let the clock dwindle to three seconds, and then claim the ball was too slick.

I did see one opposing pitcher on rehab accrue six or seven automatic balls, including two in one plate appearance. He was plainly indifferent to the clock, strictly in a rehab mindset and working at his preferred pace to the extent possible. Major Leaguers in town for the evening weren’t given leeway. When Jose Altuve played two games for AAA Sugar Land, the plate ump did not bow and say “enter the box at your leisure, my lord.”

Most of the time, the clock receded to the background, both for players and fans. Players internalized the pace it dictated. Games proceeded faster but didn’t feel rushed. As a fan or in my “official” capacity, I was never distracted by the clock even though it was almost always near my direct line of sight. The goal of the clock isn’t to saddle umps and players with nitpicky obligations. It is to create an environment in which the game flows faster organically. That said, I too had to adapt. More than once, I would study something I’d written down or glance at my phone after a pitch, only to miss the following pitch that came more quickly than expected. This year’s adaptation will be acceptance that by the time I get home from the Dell Diamond on a given night, the Rangers will probably also be done for the evening. Last year, the shorter games in Round Rock often allowed me to see an inning or two of the Rangers after I drove home.

Best as I can tell, I mentioned the clock or an automatic ball or strike only four times during the 2022 season. It just wasn’t newsworthy. Calls were rare. Calls that ended plate appearances were rarer still. Yes, an early spring game had a game-ending auto-strike, but I’d be surprised to see one in a real game, and if it happens, well, the hitter can’t say he wasn’t warned.

Undoubtedly, pitchers and hitters will try to use the clock to their advantage. Hitting is timing, pitching is disrupting timing. That type of gamesmanship has existed since the 1800s. Hopefully, pitch-clock craftiness won’t become overbearing and detract from the natural duel between pitcher and batter. Assuming clock infractions in MLB are as rare as in the minors, I don’t see the point in having the countdown clock as a tv graphic. It’s a distraction.

I’m a strong supporter of the clock rule, and I expect most of you will enjoy it too.

Jack Kruger, who caught for Round Rock in 2021-2022, offered his thoughts in a twitter thread.

Prospect Lists (free link) and Baseball America (subscriber link) released their top-30 prospect lists for the Rangers recently. As always, Jamey Newberg has his thorough and engaging top 72 at the Athletic (subscription link). rated Texas’s system the best in the division, noting the Rangers’ six top-100 prospects are one fewer than the other four teams combined. I’ll have more on these lists and others in the coming weeks.

Transactions and Other News

Texas released top 2020 signing Bayron Lora a few weeks ago, and now the priciest signing from 2018 is also gone. When signed, Jose Rodriguez was described as a bat-oriented catcher, but he never played catcher in a real game, and, unfortunately, there wasn’t much orientation to his bat. Folllowing a decent opener in the Dominican Summer League, Rodriguez lost 2020 to covid and all but 15 games in 2021 to injury. After two years with little on-field action, he joined low-A Down East and hit .197/.280/.285 with four homers in 87 games splitting time between right, first, and DH. Texas also released IF Junior Paniagua, a noteworthy signing from the same period.

LHP Joe Palumbo is back. Once among the club’s most promising prospects, Palumbo tossed 19 innings for the Rangers across 2019-2020. In 2021, Palumbo had trouble staying on the field and lacked velocity and control, leading to the loss of his 40 spot. In 2022 as a Giant, Palumbo fared no better, limited to five innings and released in July. I think Palumbo’s last fully injury-free season was 2016. Hopefully, at the least, he’ll be healthy as a returning Ranger.

2016 2nd-rounder RHP Alex Speas is also back after a year out of the system partially spent as head coach at Georgia’s Combine Academy. Speas, Demarcus Evans, and Joe Barlow made some noise in 2018 as a Hickory relief trio with otherworldly strikeout rates. Speas unfortunately needed elbow surgery by June. In 2020, he was dealing 102 on the side and rumored to be a potential MLB addition. That call never came, and he slid through the Rule 5 draft unclaimed after being left off the 40. His always-iffy control worsened in 2021 at Frisco, where he struck out 23 in 12 innings but walked or hit 24.

RHP Avery Weems underwent Tommy John surgery. Last year’s commentary ahead of the 40-man deadline: “A hard-throwing lefty with a mean slider, better control than I had in mind when reviewing his stats. He’s started most of his career, but I’m inclined to forecast him as a reliever.”

Prospect Mitch Bratt threw 1.1 scoreless innings for Team Canada in a warmup against the Cubs. Bratt, who hasn’t pitched above low-A, retired Eric Hosmer, Cody Bellinger, Dansby Swanson, and Nico Hoerner.

Former Rangers righty Mason Englert, swiped by Detroit in the Rule 5 draft, has allowed three runs on seven hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in 5.2 innings. I’ve not seen anything noteworthy about his likelihood of making the Tigers’ roster. One article said he “came to camp ready to compete,” reassuring to those of us concerned he might have spent all winter on the couch eating lard from a bucket. As of yesterday, the Tigers still had 32 pitchers in their Major League camp including 21 on the 40-man roster.

Mitch Moreland has retired.

Sparks, “Beat The Clock,” from No. 1 In Heaven, 1979