MLB is instituting a few big rule changes in 2023, but none will change the game more drastically than the pitch clock.
The pitch clock is a rule being added to address pace-of-play issues in MLB. The average game time in MLB last season was three hours and six minutes, marking the 11th year in a row game times have averaged more than three hours. Before 2011, games had only averaged over three hours once, in 2000, per Baseball Reference.
The pitch timer has been implemented in the minor leagues already, and the biggest takeaway is that it achieves its goal of shortening games. Minor league games averaged two hours and 38 minutes in 2022, down from three hours and three minutes in 2021, per ESPN.
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MLB is seeking that reduction in 2023. Here’s what to know about the pitch clock, and what we’ll see in games.
How does MLB pitch clock work in 2023?
MLB has different time limits for the pitch clock depending on the situation. They are:
- 15 seconds with no runners on base.
- 20 seconds with runners on.
- 30 seconds between batters.
Batters must be in the batter’s box and ready to hit with eight seconds left, and catchers must be in the catcher’s box with nine seconds remaining.
Pitchers must must be in their leg kick by the time the pitch clock hits zero.
What are the penalties for violating the pitch clock?
The penalties for violating the pitch clock aren’t especially steep, but they can have a big impact on an at-bat.
If a pitcher has not gone into his full motion by the time the clock hits zero, the batter will be awarded an automatic ball. The same goes for a catcher not being in the box with nine seconds.
If a batter is not ready at eight seconds, meanwhile, an automatic strike will be assessed.
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What are the timeout rules for pitchers and batters?
Pitchers are allowed two “disengagements” per plate appearance. A disengagement is either a pickoff move or stepping off the mound.
Pitchers have to ask for a new ball with eight seconds remaining on the clock, and may get penalized for repeatedly asking.
Batters also get one timeout per at-bat.
How much time will the pitch clock reduce games by?
Obviously MLB fans will have to figure out the answer to this question over the course of the season, but Minor League Baseball has given a good indication of what to expect.
In MiLB, games were reduced by 25 minutes to two hours and 38 minutes in 2022 from three hours and three minutes in 2021.
MLB is looking for a similar reduction in 2023, as three hours has continued to be about the average game time.
Can umpires control the pitch clock?
Umpires have discretion to amend the pitch clock as necessary.
Injury is the obvious reason to extend a timer, such as a batter getting hit and going down or a catcher taking a foul ball in a bad spot.
If a fielder makes a play that takes him significantly out of position, that can also be a reason to extend the clock.
Ultimately, it will come down to common sense regarding when to extend time on the clock.
Are quirky pitcher deliveries legal?
MLB says pitchers will remain encouraged to be weird with their deliveries if that’s part of their game, but that’s only true in some cases.
Luis Garcia of the Astros, for example, will no longer be able to do his “rock the baby” windup, as it will ultimately prohibit him from going into his leg kick before the clock hits zero.
Nestor Cortes for the Yankees, however, can still do his wibbly-wobbly leg kick, as he is already in his motion at that point. The ball doesn’t have to be traveling to the plate as the clock hits zero. The pitcher just needs to be into his motion.