Jerry Crasnick has an article up on ESPN talking about baseball’s pace of play, and how, this year in the Arizona Fall League, MLB is experimenting with a 20-second pitch clock. Essentially, whomever is on the mound gets 20 seconds between pitches; if he isn’t in the act of throwing, the umpire issues a ball. If it’s the hitter’s fault for stalling, the pitcher is rewarded a strike.
It’s pretty simple, and the AFL is the perfect testing grounds for these corky little ideas.
The idea to speed up the games, of course, was introduced nationally by Tom Verducci of SI.com and MLB Network. The guy is absolutely obsessed with shortening games. After all, he’s a writer, and it’s usually the writers who bitch about these things. Back in May, in his original article discussing the issue, Verducci writes:
Everybody complains about the pace of play in today’s game, what with all the strikeouts, pitching changes, mound conferences and so much time between pitches.
It’s funny how everybody complains about pace of play, but, then:
Adding 29 minutes of dead time and less action doesn’t help. Much is written about length of games, and indeed games are getting longer…. That’s not good, but length of game is a bigger problem with the media than it is with the fans. Complaints about games taking too long generally come from media people who’d rather be somewhere else than the ballpark.
At least he is willing to admit it. It just seems contradictory that he writes as if pace is threatening the sports’ way of life, then proceeds to disclaim it by saying “Baseball is more popular than ever.” I don’t get it. If everybody — everybody — complains about the pace of play, how can the game be more popular than ever?
Listen, I know baseball is slow. That’s why most people my age don’t give shit about it, and they didn’t when I was 10 or 14 or 18, either. Attention spans have been evaporating since the explosion of media and video games, notably the boom of Sega Genesis and Nintendo in the early-90s, then with the Internet shortly thereafter. Basically everyone from my generation is fucked when it comes to instant gratification; we’ve been trained from a very young age, since inception, really, that we can have whatever we want whenever we want it.
If anything was going to threaten baseball’s future popularity, it’s that. Holding the attention of the masses is only going to get harder as time goes on.
So, like I said, baseball isn’t for everybody. If my dad wasn’t a baseball fan when I was a little boy, there’s a pretty good chance I wouldn’t give a shit about it, either. Football and basketball are much more fast-paced, and much more appropriate for people both from my generation and the generations in bloom.
I hate to sound like an old man, but… the slow pace is part of the beauty. There’s no clock forcing the action, only a finite set of moves — like a game of chess — before the action expires. It’s why math people naturally gravitate towards it. It’s a math game.
No, I don’t think what Verducci truly hates is the pace of baseball, but, rather, the lack of action. In his embedded article above, he alludes to this multiple times by referencing strikeouts, something he has shitted on in the past, which is truly what is taking the joy out of his experience. In this article he wrote in 2013, he tips his hand:
Welcome to the state of the art in hitting these days, where aggressiveness is disdained and passivity is exalted. The modern hitter is guided by the accepted wisdom in catchphrases such as “driving up pitch counts,” “taking pitches” and “quality at-bats.” There is one serious flaw in this groupthink strategy.
In his pace of play article, he mentions strikeouts and “the marked improvement of run-prevention methodologies” — a fancier version of saying “less scoring” — as the #1 cause for “the deceleration of pace of play.”
Here, pretentiously, he is of the mind that batters aren’t, well, swinging the bat enough. That if baseball players swung the bat more, instead of trying to get on base with all these stupid walks, there would be less strikeouts and the game would be more enjoyable. It’s as shortsighted inasmuch awareness it lacks, using the logic of a little leaguer to try explaining why hitters don’t get on base now nearly as much as they once did.
Of course, we know that’s bullshit. Hitters are no worse now than they’ve ever been, but pitching, rather, has gotten so much better that it doesn’t matter how good lineups are. Pitchers are throwing harder, with the increased velocity generating less contact, and the specialization of relief roles asks pitchers to max out over just one hitter or three hitters. Which, again, leads to less contact. (And more strikeouts.)
Base runners are a precious commodity in the modern era, so it makes sense why offenses are trying to take more pitches; they want to get on base. In the 90s and early aught’s, offenses were king due to the steroid revolution. At the time it was lauded as one of the great eras in baseball history, but when the investigations and bans started coming down, it were the Tom Verduccis of this world lining up to rewrite history and protect the integrity of a corrupt game.
Now, here we are, less than a decade removed, and Verducci is complaining that pitching is too dominant, that offenses need to do a better job at swinging the bat more frequently, and somewhere in the middle it’s the fault of the players for taking too much time while the games are being played. I mean, a 20-second pitch clock, really? Can you just imagine a critical moment during the postseason, with the bases loaded and two outs, and a 3-2 pitch, and the guy on the mound waits a couple extra seconds to gather himself? Wait, no! Don’t do it! They’re going to call a ball! Throw it!
Yeah, me either.
Hey, Tom Verducci, if you want to lead the charge to shorten the length of baseball games, here’s a good place to start: Tell MLB to knock it off with the unnecessarily long commercial breaks. We don’t need two minutes and thirty seconds between innings to pay the bills.