MLB Pitch Clock: History, first uses, rule changes

San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado ran afoul of the MLB pitch clock. (Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports)
San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado ran afoul of the MLB pitch clock. (Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports) /

The MLB pitch clock is going to take some getting used to for fans and players in 2023. What is the rule and where did it come from?

The length and pace of MLB games has been a talking point for years. Whether because of routine or some other element, pitchers and batters have been accused of drawing out the game by simply taking too long to get ready on the mound or in the batter’s box.

Now the league is trying to do something about it by implementing a pitch clock beginning in the 2023 season.

What is the new pitch clock and how will it work during the 2023 MLB season?

What is the MLB pitch clock?

Much like an NBA shot clock, the MLB pitch clock will put a limit on the amount of time batters and pitchers can spend outside of action.

The new rule institutes a 30-second timer between batters, a 15-second timer between pitches with bases empty and a 20-second timer between pitches with runners on.

Pitchers who don’t begin their motion before the expiration of the timer are charged with an automatic ball.

Batters who are not ready to receive a pitch by the eight-second mark are charged an automatic strike.

Those are the basics of the new rule. Here are some additional elements:

  • The pitching timer resets in the event of a pickoff or if the pitcher steps off the rubber. However, pitchers can only have two pickoff attempts or step-offs per plate appearance.
    • The disengagement limit is reset if runners advance.
    • A third pickoff attempt will advance the runner unless the pickoff attempt was successful.
    • Mound visits, injury timeouts and offensive timeouts do not count towards the disengagement limit.
  • Umpires can use their discretion to give players extra time. An example given by MLB is if a catcher needed additional time to put on their gear if they were running the bases in the previous half-inning.

History of the MLB pitch clock

MLB tested out the rule in the minors beginning in 2015 when Double-A and Triple-A games featured the rule. Over the next several years, it improved the pace of MiLB games by an average of 26 minutes, per MLB.

In September of 2022, the Joint Competition Committee voted to implement the pitch clock in the majors to improve pace of play.

What was the average MLB game length in 2022

The push to improve pace of play stems from the growing length of the average game. Since 2014, only one season had an average game length below three hours.

The average length of a nine-inning MLB game in 2022 was three hours and three minutes, according to Baseball Reference.

The first spring training games with the pitch clock implemented in 2023 ran for two hours and 29 minutes and two hours and 33 minutes.

Manny Machado received first MLB pitch clock penalty

The first player to be penalized for violating the pitch clock in 2023 was Manny Machado of the Padres during one of those spring training games against the Mariners.

Machado told reporters after the game that the umpire warned him but he wasn’t able to get in the box in time. He’ll have to learn to adjust.

“It’s going to be interesting to see,” Machado said per James Wagner of the New York Times. “Who knows where this leads. We’re in the record books at least.”

Whether baseball fans like or hate the new pitch clock, it could soon have a huge impact on the outcome of games.

Just take this costly violation in a college baseball game between Kansas State and LSU.

The game ended because of a pitch clock violation giving the batter their final strike on the final out.

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