Three weeks on the clock

I think only the most casual MLB fans wouldn’t have realised that a ‘pitch timer’ has been introduced this season.  It’s talked about on nearly every broadcast, and the countdown is clearly visible in all the stadiums. It’s taking about 27 minutes off the length of the average MLB game so far but that is just the tip of the iceberg on what the pitch timer has done to the game.

A few of you may have wondered why I used ‘pitch timer’ and not ‘pitch clock’ in the first paragraph and that’s mainly because that is what MLB itself calls it. Yes, even though ‘pitch clock’ is probably the more commonly used colloquialism, MLB uses ‘pitch timer’. Personally, I think they still want to say there is no ‘clock’ in baseball, and therefore timer is the phrase.

What is the rule?

Between pitches, a 15-second timer will be in place with the bases empty and a 20-second timer with runners on base. The pitcher must begin his motion to deliver the pitch before the expiration of the ‘pitch timer’. Pitchers who violate the timer are charged with an automatic ball. Batters must be in the box and alert to the pitcher by the eight-second mark or else be charged with an automatic strike.

With runners on base, the timer resets if the pitcher attempts a pickoff or steps off the rubber. Pitchers are limited to two disengagements (pickoff attempts or step-offs) per plate appearance. However, this limit is reset if a runner or runners advance during the plate appearance. If a third pickoff attempt is made, the runner automatically advances one base if the pickoff attempt is not successful.  

Batters are allowed one timeout per plate appearance. A batter who tries to call for a second timeout will be charged with an automatic strike.

Also, there will be a 30-second timer between batters.

How many timer violations?

Across the first three weeks of baseball there were 279 games played, and there were 199 pitch timer violations, which equates to 0.71 per game. Sixty of them were on batters, and 139 were on pitchers.

Just over half of the games haven’t had any violations, but there was one game which had seven!

Who is messing up?

So far, 54 batters and 112 pitchers have fallen victim to the pitcher timer, with every team having at least one violation. The “leaders” for both pitchers and batters have three violations. 

And the leading team, the Mets, is on 12 violations. The Twins and the Dodgers have the least with one each.

It is also worth noting that the Dodgers are the only team yet to have any pitcher time violations, and the Rays, Reds, Tigers, Twins & Yankees have yet to have any batter timer violations.

Also, thanks to these new rules, we have the possibility of players ending their plate appearance due to them violating the pitch timer. A pitcher can issue a walk, and a batter can strike out if they get their timing wrong in the wrong count.

This has given rise to the two new stats I like to call, Sleepwalks and Struckout Napping.

And in the first three weeks, we have seen ten sleep walks, and 12 struckout nappings. If you want to know who the firsts in MLB were, it was Gerrit Cole for the first sleepwalk and Rafael Devers for the first struckout napping.

When are players messing up?

If these violations were evenly distributed across the pitches in an MLB game, we’d expect to see about 25% of violations occur on the first pitch, but that isn’t the case; we are seeing way more.

Just under half of all violations occur on the first pitch, which suggests that players still haven’t quite adjusted to being ready for that first pitch under the 30s new rules. It’s extra bad for the batters, as 65% of their violations are coming here.

Let’s remove the 0-0 ones and see how the rest are distributed. 

When we do that, we see the second area where it is disproportionate, the two-strike count. So far, in 2023, 31% of non 0-0 pitches have been thrown in two-strike counts, but 63% of non 0-0 violations come from these pitches. This is from both pitchers and batters (65% and 57%, respectively).

This makes some sense that a two-strike count is a big moment in a plate appearance, and the pitcher wants to choose the right pitch to throw, and the batter wants to be as ready as possible for what comes his way.

These two areas clearly highlight ways players and teams can improve on the pitch timer.

Stepoffs and Timeouts

As stated in the rules, pitchers and batters have ways to reset the pitch clock. So, let’s see if players are using them. (Note – I haven’t included pickoffs here, just stepoffs)

There’s a clear pattern once again; batters are using their timeouts when they are on two strikes. A whopping 85% of timeouts have come on two-strike counts.  And while there have been over a thousand timeouts called so far this season, that isn’t much when you consider that there have been over 20K plate appearances already this season. 

PItchers stepoffs on the other hand, seem to be much more in line with the pitch distribution with a slight skew towards the two strike counts.  There are also far fewer stepoffs, which makes sense as a pitcher isn’t going to be able to stepoff with one or two seconds on the clock as they are already likely to be in the motion of throwing.

Things are getting better.

There is a positive to all of this is that the number of violations per game and percent of games with violations is dropping. 

This is a pretty steep drop in the number of violations per game and a big increase in the number of games without any violations for the third week of the season. It will be interesting to track to see if it continues.

With the perceived benefits of reducing game time, the pitch timer looks like it is here to stay. If you want to see more stats and daily updates on pitch timer violations, you can follow a Twitter account I made to track this all, @mlbptv.

Russell is Bat Flips and Nerds’ resident analytical genius, and arguably Europe’s finest sabermetrician.  If you’re not following Russell on Twitter @REassom then you’re doing baseball wrong.

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