Pitch-clock operators in Charlotte see challenges for MLB players

There’s every indication that the MILB pitch clock is coming to the big leagues next year.  We know how many players feel about it.  But what do the pitch-clock operators themselves think? Some of their insights will surprise you.

Zak Gonzalez and Brad Kopp are among the pitch-clock operators for the Charlotte Knights, and also two of the best baseball minds in the press box. They recently shared their thoughts on the impact of the pitch clock.  Here are the highlights:

*They routinely meet with umpires before and after each game to prepare and debrief, and also have a walkie-talkie to communicate with one of the base umpires during the game.  The supervisor of MILB umpires is routinely at Knights’ games now and is constantly interacting with the clock operators as well. And Zak and Brad receive weekly emails that go into greater detail on unique situations that arise.

*There are three clocks in every ballpark — one in centerfield that the umpire, batter and catcher can see, and one by each dugout that the pitcher and fielders can see. Each dugout also have tablets so they can see the where each pitch crosses the batter’s box. On Tuesday night, the Knights also began posting the pitch box on its scoreboard so fans can see it (though the vast majority have no idea the umpire is not calling the game).

*In 14 seconds, assuming no one is on base, the pitcher has to begin his delivery — as opposed to just coming set — while the batter must be in the box and ready for the pitch at the nine-second mark. The window increases to 19 seconds with a runner on base.

*Zak believes pitchers are having a tougher time than hitters with the clock and looking for all kinds of ways to slow things down. They occasionally try stepping off the rubber, but the umpire doesn’t reset the clock when that happens, if there are no runners on base. If there is a baserunner, the pitcher can step off or throw to first twice. If there is a third attempt, and it is unsuccessful, a balk is called.

*If a pitcher has to cover first base, he must then hustle back to the mound, catch his breath and then throw another pitch, with the clock re-starting as soon as his foot hits the dirt on the mound. Sometimes, Zak said, pitchers will walk up to the mound but stay on the grass a few extra seconds to try to slow things down.

*With just 14 seconds, Brad doesn’t think a pitcher can shake off the catcher more than two times.

*It is hard to know, Brad said, how MLB players will react. Brad recalled going home after running the pitch clock one particular night and watching the Yankees play the Orioles on TV.  Upon seeing Aroldis Chapman take 42 seconds between pitches, he thought to himself that there’d be no way the Yankee closer could ever get his routine down to 14 seconds.  

*Taken one step further, he recalled a discussion on the MLB Network during which an analyst observed that teams will have to consider how effective certain pitchers will be with a pitch clock before signing them as free agents.

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Jeff Cohen
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Right Size Wrong Shape

This is really interesting; thanks for the insight. I have heard a lot of positive reviews of the pitch clock, but I remain dubious. I feel like some leeway needs to be build in. Maybe give a pitcher 3 warnings before penalty or something. What if a gnat flies in your eye, or in a big moment you really can’t get together on a sign? Heftier fellows like Lance Lynn are going to be changing their uniforms every half inning.

upnorthsox

They can still call time, right? If so, how many times any inning?

itaita

I still think the clock is a stupid idea. Nobody cares when a football game goes over 3 and a half hours. Baseball would be better served to try and find ways to get more balls in play and baserunners moving around the bases. Things like removing the shift to allow more singles and more baserunning opportunities would help. I had a friend suggest finding a way to remove the slidestep to create more base stealing chances could help as well. I just think this is only going to cause players and pitchers to rush which could open them up to even more injuries and less quality pitching as a whole.

phillyd

The pitch clock will get more balls in play. Pitchers won’t be able to rest up between pitches and throw max effort on every pitch resulting in lower velocity and more contact.

joewho112

Did you not enjoy Mark Buehrle? The Sox could have charged extra for his games. So much more enjoyable than watching guys wonder around the mound and play with their caps.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Honestly, I was always kind of disappointed when I went to a Buehrle game (and I think the Sox won all 3 times I saw him). I spent more time in the car driving to and from the game than I did at the game with my friends. 4 hour games are too long, but 2 hour games are too short.

chipporter

I disagree, at least for myself. I could never stand to watch David Price pitch or watch most Red Sox players of the 2000’s step out each pitch, readjust both batting gloves, pull up on their pants, adjust their sleeves, take their helmet off and put it back on, raise the bat and work themselves into a grip, put one foot in the box, dig their toe in and then bring the other foot in the box BETWEEN EVERY STINKING PITCH. It was theater of the absurd.

I’m there to actually watch baseball, and that’s not it. JMHO

Alfornia Jones

Can’t happen fast enough, along with the automated strike zone. Players will have a hard time adjusting, but they can create a transition period with a longer pitch clock to start, then taper to the 14 seconds. The most important thing is once they do make this a permanent change, they should not make any concessions for the playoffs.

Pace of play and lack of action are killing the watching experience, especially the in person experience. People on baseball blogs and message boards aren’t the target audience for making this change, so not surprised the purists are against it. They need to make it a predictable 3 hour (preferably 2.5HRS) game similar to the NFL. Except for the Superbowl and OT games, the NFL has consistently maintained that timeframe for 30-40 years.

If nothing happens in a baseball game, it should still not happen in less than 3 hours.

DuckSnorting-CanofCorn

I’m curious how this impacts base stealing. If the baserunner knows he gets a free base if the pitcher picks off 3 times and fails to tag, they are probably going to get really greedy with their leadoffs.

joewho112

Pitchers get really stingy with their pickoff throws

metasox

MLB ran an article taking a look at base stealing

https://www.mlb.com/news/pitch-clock-may-bring-back-stolen-bases

Last edited 10 days ago by metasox
a-t

The concept I don’t hate. The piddling amount of time I do. It’s hard enough to pitch without being artificially rushed to this degree, and it’s also highly annoying for major league pitchers making rehab starts to have to deal with this crap. The stuff about not being able to step off and having to *run* back after covering 1st is also extremely silly. Baseball by nature is a great deal of leisure with explosive interludes; football is too, it’s just that its pauses are long enough to advertise with!

joewho112

Rehabbing major leaguers are not subject to the clock

soxfan

Lived in Japan a couple years two decades ago and they shut the tv coverage off at three hours. If the game overran its slot you got the Japanese equivalent of Heidi. So there are worse ideas regarding pace of play.

metasox

Are any Sox pitchers likely to be especially challenged by a clock?

GrinnellSteve

Buehrle is planning to come out of retirement.

soxygen

This is not based on numbers, but Matt Foster seems like the slowest pitcher on the team. I often lose interest soon after he comes into the game. How hard can it be to decide between the unexceptional fastball and the unexceptional changeup?

a-t

Not at all accurate regarding his fastball. He gets a ton of rise on the pitch, which is why it’s effective, and I have little doubt that he takes so long to try and max out the pitch’s velo so it plays up as a swing-and-miss fastball.

soxygen

Foster’s fastball is fine, but it really isn’t exceptional.

Jim Margalus

Foster is indeed the slowest-working pitcher on the Sox, although López and Velasquez are just as slow with runners on. Wrote about it here.

chipporter

Cease and Gio also have issues if things are smooth for them. It’s funny that they can’t correlate pace of play with effectiveness.

GrinnellSteve

At the high school game last night the opposing pitcher was working so fast, I could barely keep up with him from the stands. I don’t think he would have been fazed by a 6-second clock. I’ve never seen anything like it. He was ready to throw almost from the moment the ball touched his mitt.

He lost, but he was facing the top-ranked team in the state.

Nellie Fox

We allow every pitch, if the catcher calls for it, to be checked for a batter swing? We allow the blowout games to go on forever ? And we want the pitcher to hurry up?

Jim Margalus

Pretty much, yeah. It’s the root cause.

Root Cause

I have to agree but I take your remarks personally.

soxygen

That, and pitching changes. Pitching changes add a lot of time to the game.

One frustration I have with the rule changes under Rob Manfred is that there are efforts to make the game go faster and, at the same time, changes to roster size that facilitate more and more pitching changes.

As boring as it is to watch Matt Foster pitch, it is even more boring when he is removed from the game for Aaron Bummer or whoever. If I haven’t turned off the TV so that I don’t have to watch Matt Foster hold the ball, then I almost certainly fall asleep during the pitching change.

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