Major League Baseball will likely reduce the pitch clock to 18 seconds from 20 with runners on base next year, major-league sources confirmed Wednesday.
The league expects the change would shave an average of roughly five minutes off games.
Regular-season games in 2023 finished at an average of 2 hours, 40 minutes, and MLB’s fan research has identified 2 hours, 30 minutes as an ideal game length. The change is intended to push game times closer to that mark.
Baseball’s 2022 labor agreement gave the 11-member competition committee — made up of six club representatives, four players and one umpire — full authority to move forward on all on-field rule changes. The committee technically has 45 days to consider proposals, but extensions can be granted, making the start of spring training more of a firm deadline for implementation. Because it has the most votes on the committee, MLB ultimately controls the process.
In 2023, the first season of the pitch clock, MLB reduced the average time of a nine-inning game by 24 minutes, down from 3 hours, 4 minutes. The clock would remain at 15 seconds between pitches with nobody on, sources said.
This news was first reported by ESPN.
What’s the reason to shorten the clock?
There are multiple reasons. One is that game times grew gradually longer as the season went on, as players adapted to ways to control the pitch clock. The average game time was 2:36 in April but peaked at 2:44 in September.
But the second reason is data that revealed pitchers rarely let the clock get close to zero with runners on base. With men on, pitchers delivered pitches with an average of 7.3 seconds remaining on the clock. So MLB believes it’s possible to tighten the pace even further without significant impact on how pitchers and hitters approach at-bats.
How likely is this change to happen next season?
Extremely likely. The competition committee still has to go through the formal process of studying and debating this change. But because the committee has the power to implement the rule without owner approval or a negotiation with the players’ union, there wouldn’t seem to be any impediment that would prevent the 18-second clock from a 2024 arrival.
Are players on board with it?
Players actually would prefer a uniform clock, where the time between pitches was the same on every pitch — so an 18-second limit, both with runners on base and nobody on, would likely be their preference, sources said. But since players are outnumbered on the competition committee, they’re likely to lose that argument.
Players also have expressed concern that pitcher injuries spiked this season because of the pitch clock. But MLB has said there is no evidence linking the clock to the rate of pitcher injuries.
(Photo: Mark Hoffman / USA Today)