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MLB's pitch clocks will ruin the game, unless they save it first

In the inaugural session of the SB Nation MLB Roundtable, we look at news about MiLB using a pitch clock and how terrible/great it will be.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The big news around baseball the baseball world the past 24 hours has been a minor (league) rule change. Starting in 2015, Double-A and Triple-A teams will be implementing a 20-second pitch clock in an effort to speed up games. So far there are no imminent plans to begin doing this in the majors, but if this test goes well that may be right around the corner.

That's spurred plenty of discussion on the internet, so the SB Nation baseball team decided we would join in. This is the first of what will hopefully be many roundtables where a few experts from around the network will talk about the most recent baseball news.

Here are your players for the week:

Myself, head editor of BrewCrewBall

Justin Bopp, the SB Nation Baseball league manager

Catherine Slonksnis, writer for Bless You Boys

Jeremy Koo, writer for Athletics Nation

Danny Russell, head editor of D Rays Bay

Rob Rogacki, head editor of Bless You Boys

TOPIC: MLB is implementing a pitch clock in AA and AAA. This is awesome and will speed up the game, right?

Catherine Slonksnis It may speed up the game but there is going to be a mixed reaction to how it's received by the players.

Justin Bopp You think it's going to upset players? Won't they appreciate the game moving faster? I'm thinking of outfielders bored out of their minds already.

Jeremy Koo I had a chance to see it watching the Arizona Fall League webcasts. I didn't feel like the pitcher was rushed.

Catherine Slonksnis Pitchers seem to like their rituals too.

Noah Jarosh I think it will depend on the player, won't it? Some guys prefer more time to focus, some prefer to have things moving quickly so they don't get 'out of their groove'.

Jeremy Koo I think the batter going in and out of the box has a lot more to do with the delay between pitches than anything else.

Justin Bopp I think a pitch clock will necessitate limiting those as well, Jeremy.


Rob Rogacki Have players ever complained about the pace of game?

Danny Russell The corresponding change is that batter keep one foot in the box, correct?

Noah Jarosh The interesting thing is that starting pitchers -- who will take up 2/3 of the game -- don't seem to be the problem. It's the relievers that tend to be slowest.

Rob Rogacki It only seems to be (casual) fans whining about the pace.

Justin Bopp Well I'm not a casual fan and I complain about the pace. Let's be honest, it's excruciating.

Danny Russell Casual fans are important from a monetary perspective, and agreed with Bopp, I hate how long games take .

Noah Jarosh Quick games are the best games.

Jeremy Koo When I go to games, I yell at the visiting batters to get back in the box.

Justin Bopp Well there's game length and there's game pace. NFL proves that the length isn't the problem.

Danny Russell I have very limited time at home, due to my work schedule and travel requirements. The last thing I want to do is watch something that will take four hours when I could be investing in my family.

Jeremy Koo I don't yell at the pitchers to pitch faster.

Rob Rogacki Quick games are nice, but I think the pitch clock is going to have a negligible impact on the length of a game.

Noah Jarosh Should MLB also then limit the number of pitching changes a manager can make in an inning? Tony La Russa was agonizing because he would put in a pitcher for each batter in some innings.

Danny Russell NFL is a good counter-argument to my point.

Justin Bopp You do, Rob? Why?

Rob Rogacki Depending on the pitcher, you're removing 5-10 seconds between pitches

Justin Bopp Noah: I think that's something that should happen too.

Rob Rogacki Sure, that adds up, but chopping 30 seconds off the excruciating commercial breaks between innings would do a lot more.

Justin Bopp Well again we're talking about pace not length.

Catherine Slonksnis I agree with Rob. The pace of the game and the length are intertwined.

Justin Bopp I mean, snap your fingers, hurry this shit up. I don't mind 3 hour games. I mind 3 hour games where nothing happens.

There are just so many ways where the game gets slowed down that putting in a pitch clock is barely even a band-aid solution.

Rob Rogacki And if a pitcher and catcher can't get on the same page during the pitch clock, won't that just lead to more timeouts where the catcher jogs out to the mound? Or a meaningless pickoff throw over to first base?

Danny Russell That adds strategy, in my opinion. 

Justin Bopp You make a good point.

Rob Rogacki As we saw with manager challenges, they will find a way to circumvent the rule.

Noah Jarosh There are just so many ways where the game gets slowed down that putting in a pitch clock is barely even a bandaid solution. 

Rob Rogacki ^THIS.

Jeremy Koo Manager challenges were supposed to speed things up by ending protracted manager arguments.

Justin Bopp Ok, here's the next question:

What are the followup rules and/or fallout items that MLB will have to address before bringing it up to the bigs?

Rob Rogacki The biggest problem is what happens if the clock expires.

Jeremy Koo I've heard they're addressing the "stand around and wait for the bench coach" thumbs up too.

Noah Jarosh I'd guess the penalty would be an automatic ball. As far as other fallout: Number of time outs called, batters stepping out of the box, pitcher changes in an inning...

Catherine Slonksnis Right now there is a penalty.

Rob Rogacki And that's ridiculous if a pitch clock determines an important game. If a pitcher takes 2-3 seconds too long and "walks" in a run? Shameful.

Danny Russell Imagine how much more boring American Football would be without a snap count. Or basketball without a shot clock.

Jeremy Koo I'm just imagining an extremely high leverage situation. Can you imagine, Game 7 of the World Series, or even just a postseason spot on the line, the drama of that situation should play out for as long as possible. The staredown is epic. That's part of the majesty of the game. Oops, 20 seconds up, ball four.

Danny Russell Someone enjoys Fox broadcasts.

Jeremy Koo Well...

Justin Bopp I don't think that's limited by letting it happen for a few extra seconds.

Noah Jarosh The shot clock in basketball was invented because teams would get a lead and play keep-away. You can't really do that in baseball.

Rob Rogacki Has anyone ever looked into the average length of a commercial break for a national broadcast? How long were the breaks between innings during the World Series?

Danny Russell This is a non-issue, that's like someone suggesting after the 2-minute warning in a football game the snap count shouldn't matter anymore.

Rob Rogacki I know that advertising dollars speak volumes and commercial breaks won't be shortened, but that's your problem.

Danny Russell This issue is pace of game all season long, I'd much rather implement the rule for the full game than worry about a staring context while Joe buck is sleeping. 

Jeremy Koo I mean that's just an example. Any high leverage situation, I feel, shouldn't have a pitch clock breathing down our necks.

Danny Russell What other sports allow that though? 

Justin Bopp Oh man I am the opposite -- imagine how much more pressure that adds to the situation!

Danny Russell Exactly.

Jeremy Koo Thinking of it that way, I actually would be okay if the pitch clock was only for bases empty situations

Justin Bopp Imagine some awful Tigers reliever on a pitch clock!

Danny Russell YES!

Justin Bopp See!

Jeremy Koo Hah.

Justin Bopp Ok, let's move on.

We're talking about the entertainment value of the sport. Agree or Disagree?

Noah Jarosh Entertainment, but there's a health aspect possibly. With how fragile pitchers are considered, do you want to force them to move faster than they are comfortable with?

Justin Bopp And I'll answer, too. Yes, it's about entertainment. And a pitch clock will undoubtedly make it more entertaining.

Danny Russell If a guy is hurt, you call time. Non-issue. 

Jeremy Koo I've also heard some fielders hypothesize that longer games mean more chances for hamstrings or muscles to tighten up.

So what needs to happen to make the pitch clock viable in the Majors?

Danny Russell FOB WATCHES!

Jeremy Koo Just like replay, FOB WATCHES will find a sponsorship. Also I think it needs to continue in the minor leagues for some time.

Noah Jarosh Time, probably. People will be adverse to something right away, then five years later probably would come to appreciate it. Or at the least it would just become something that exists.

Jeremy Koo Anybody with NHL history knowledge know how the adoption of mandatory face shields (or even just helmets) went?

Rob Rogacki They grandfathered it in. Guys who were around before the rule were exempt. 

Jeremy Koo Oh yeah, well that's no good. That only works with spitballers.

Noah Jarosh What about the shot clock in the NBA? I feel like that's a good comparison. Were people opposed to that when it was implemented?

The reason this is so different than the NBA and the NFL and the NHL is because all of them actually have a clock. Timed quarters. Not baseball.

"When it was first introduced by the NBA, the 24-second shot clock made players so nervous that it hardly came into play, as players were taking fewer than 20 seconds to shoot.

According to Syracuse star Dolph Schayes, "We thought we had to take quick shots – a pass and a shot was it – maybe 8-10 seconds... But as the game went on, we saw the inherent genius in Danny's 24 seconds – you could work the ball around [the offensive zone] for a good shot."" From wikipedia.

Justin Bopp The reason this is so different than the NBA and the NFL and the NHL is because all of them actually have a clock. Timed quarters. Not baseball. I mean, that's the foundation of sabermetrics! There is no time so every out represents infinite runs.

Noah Jarosh Right, but it's the closest comparison you can get I think. It's the flow of the game more than the overall time, as far as players are concerned.

Jeremy Koo I'm more interested in the idea that pitch clocks will teach good pace-of-game habits in the minor leagues.

Noah Jarosh That's an interesting point. Maybe just keeping it in the minors will change pitchers routines so they end up becoming quicker pitchers when they reach the majors.

Jeremy Koo Although, to be fair, the rule about not leaving the box in the minor leagues hasn't carried over to MLB very well.

Justin Bopp I think starting it in the minors is more about making it easier to implement in the majors in a few years.

So far we have something of a consensus, even if we don't agree on how awesome a pitch clock will be:

Justin Bopp 1. it's more about the pace of the game, not the length.

2. it won't necessarily help the pace without other corollary adjustments (like stepping out of the batter's box and ridiculous pitching changes)

3. because of #2, it creates something of a pandora's box with downstream rule changes. That sound right, so far?

Jeremy Koo I don't know if I would agree on pitching changes being "ridiculous."

Rob Rogacki Pretty much. I'm not against improving the pace of game, I just think it won't make a difference and it will have horrible consequences the one time out of 1,000 that it actually has a significant impact in a high leverage situation.

Jeremy Koo That's just the modern trend in strategy.

Justin Bopp Sorry, I meant 'a ridiculous number of'.

Jeremy Koo I'm with Rob on leverage.

Justin Bopp Well I root for chaos, so.

Jeremy Koo I could see a time clock violation being the "must make a football move" of our sport.

Justin Bopp you mean other than the strike zone.

Jeremy Koo I think the rule book strike zone should be changed, but that's a round table for another day.

Speaking of which, our time is up. Let's close by each sharing our big personal opinion/conclusion.

Danny Russell I believe an increased pace will make the game more entertaining. I love baseball, from an analytics perspective, but sitting through four hours of lengthy pitching exchanges can be quite boring.

Jeremy Koo I'm reluctant to support a time clock, because I don't think it has that big a difference on pace of play and adds a time pressure that feels out of place in baseball. If implemented, it should solely be for bases empty situation. It will take a few years of use in the minor leagues before MLB players will buy in.

Danny Russell I also believe increased pace of game will shorten the lengths of games, which I'd welcome whole heartedly. The closer we can get games to two hours, the happier I will be, and the more likely I would be to watch a game. In my opinion, the same might be true for the casual fan as well.

Noah Jarosh Big personal opinion: Mostly, I'm indifferent towards pitch clocks. It's hard for me to get too worked up about something that I don't see as actually creating as big an impact as MLB maybe would like to believe. There are too many other things that slow down the game to make one small solution worth it. Faster games are usually more fun -- 2:15-2:30 is the sweet spot I think -- while Red Sox-Yankees five-hour snorefests are awful. Speeding up the pace of the game is a good idea. Pitch clocks ain't gonna cut it without other major changes, though, and baseball isn't prone to big sweeping changes.

Rob Rogacki The pace of game can stand to improve, but a pitch count is probably only going to have a negligible impact on the pace and length of games. There are bigger problems leading to longer games, which won't necessarily be solved as long as advertising dollars keep lining owners' pockets. There are ways around the clock, and until MLB finds a good way to police it, we're just going to be running in circles.

Danny Russell Pitching clocks can only increase the leverage of in-game situations, which adds to the entertainment aspect of baseball.

Justin Bopp I love that MLB is trying pitch clocks for several reasons. The first is that, (!) holy shit, MLB is trying something! The second is that MLB clearly knows there's a pace of game issue and honestly, starting with a pitch clock seems like a logical place. Finally, I think this will be an overall plus to the entertainment value of the game, even if it requires downstream adjustments to other aspects.