Pace of play has been a problem in baseball for a while now. The average time it took to play a Major League Baseball game rose to three hours and five minutes in 2017, the highest it has ever been. That figure has been steadily rising since the dawn of time, but has gotten much worse lately: over the past 30 years, the average game time has risen by nearly 30 minutes.
Thankfully, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is going to do something about it. Earlier this week, Manfred hinted that he might unilaterally institute a pitch clock, forcing players to speed up the pace of game. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that Manfred is toying with the idea of a 20-second pitch clock and a reduction in the number of mound visits a team is allowed.
The idea itself is fine. Baseball’s actual pace of play has been downright slow for a while now, and that bears out in the numbers. The slight dip we saw in 2016 — when players were strongly encouraged to get the game moving — was a welcome improvement. The game not only went faster, but it felt faster, which might even mean more than shaving a few minutes off the average game time.
A pitch clock would further improve this without upsetting the balance of baseball. The pitch clock has already been in use in the minor leagues for a few years now, so the youngest crop of MLB talent already has exposure to this phenomenon. Will it upset a few veterans? Probably. Will it be worth it? I certainly think so.
The problem is in how this might be implemented. MLB announcing that it is simply going to institute the pitch clock without any pushback from the MLB Player’s Association (MLBPA) sets a dangerous precedent, one that will further damage an already strained relationship between the owners and players.
As SB Nation’s Marc Normadin notes, the MLBPA would do well to get something in return for conceding to a pitch clock.
The best plan here for the MLBPA is to extract whatever concession they can out of the owners in order to come up with the pace of play plan that will work best for 2018 and beyond. Giving in to ownership hasn’t exactly worked out for the Players Union for a couple of decades now.
With the MLBPA essentially bleeding chips at every collective bargaining agreement negotiation over the past 25 years, they need to gain some semblance of control, particularly of how the game’s burgeoning financial pool is distributed. Revenues are higher than ever, but teams are looking to cut costs wherever they can. Free agents, in particular, are being left out to dry as teams realize just how inefficient spending on old, expensive players really is. Payrolls are down across the game, and owners are pocketing more revenue than ever before.
I don’t know what that concession is, though. Any change to how free agency is determined or compensated seems too big to ask for in return for something small like the pitch clock. Other changes — like the improved amenities Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan recently outlined in his glimpse at the worrying outlook of baseball’s financial future — don’t seem to address the actual problems facing the MLBPA right now.
They better get something, though. Even if the pitch clock makes the game better, the players can’t afford to let this one go unanswered.