During the 2017 season, Kansas City Royals games were shorter than any other team in the American League. The team’s pitchers will still need to adjust with new pitch clock rules possibly coming to MLB.
The Kansas City Royals had the second-fastest average time of game in all of Major League Baseball last season and the fastest in the American League. Their average time of three hours, two minutes was six minutes faster than the league average and 18 minutes faster than the team with the slowest games in the AL, the Boston Red Sox.
Still, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has made headlines recently when discussing possible new pace of play initiatives for the 2018 season. In an Associated Press article, Manfred was quoted as saying, “My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can’t get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other.”
A pitch clock is one of the potential changes being discussed.
Trying to get pitchers to speed up their deliveries to home plate is nothing new. In fact, there already is a rule on the books that governs the time between pitches. Official Baseball Rule 5.07(c) reads:
"When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call ‘Ball.’"
Clearly, MLB umpires have never enforced this rule. In an effort to test how a pitch clock could work, MLB implemented rules at the Double-A and Triple-A levels before the 2015 season. The rules limited the time between pitches and outlined penalties for violations. Among the new rules:
- “Pitchers will be allowed 20 seconds to begin their wind-up or the motion to come to the set position.”
- “The timer will stop as soon as the pitcher begins his wind-up, or begins the motion to come to the set position.”
- “If the pitcher feints a pick off or steps off the rubber with runners on base, the timer shall reset and start again immediately.”
- “Umpires have the authority to stop the 20-second timer and order a reset.”
- “Should the pitcher fail to begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position in 20 seconds, a ball will be awarded to the count on the batter.”
Since Double-A and Triple-A players have been playing with these rules for three seasons now, it’s reasonable to think that these rules could be coming to MLB in 2018.
So, how would this affect Kansas City Royals pitchers?
We could use Fangraphs’ excellent “pitch pace” data to draw some conclusions. But we need to massage the data first.
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Fangraphs calculates pace by “taking the difference between the first pitch of a plate appearance and the last pitch and then dividing by the number of pitches minus one.” The 20-second clock ends once the pitcher comes set, but the Fangraphs’ pace data counts that time. For the sake of this analysis, let’s add three seconds to each player’s Fangraphs pace: one second to come to a complete stop, one second to deliver the pitch to home plate and one second for the catcher to throw the ball back to the pitcher.
Therefore, if a player’s average pace is 23 seconds or less, he would be within the rules more often than not.
So with that, here are some of the Kansas City Royals pitchers’ pace statistics from 2017, from fastest to slowest:
- Jake Junis: 20.4 seconds
- Jason Vargas: 20.5 seconds
- Scott Alexander: 23.6 seconds
- Peter Moylan: 23.8 seconds
- Danny Duffy: 24 seconds
- Ian Kennedy: 24.2 seconds
- Kelvin Herrera: 24.2 seconds
- Nathan Karns: 25.1 seconds
- Joakim Soria: 25.2 seconds
- Jason Hammel: 26.8 seconds
The good news is that with three years of practice in the minors, pitchers who come up through the farm system should already be used to these rules. The bad news is that most Royals pitchers will likely need to speed up their routines in 2018 to avoid being penalized. Jason Hammel, in particular, would need to cut nearly four seconds out of his pre-pitch routine.
With baseball players being creatures of habit, only time will tell how this change will affect their performances. No matter what, it looks like the team with the fastest games in the American League will now have to work even faster.
What do you think? Are you in favor of a pitch clock? Let us know your thoughts.