When baseball’s new pace-of-game initiatives began this year, some Yankees teased Brett Gardner that he was single-handedly responsible. Gardner, some thought, “was really slow” during at-bats, he says.
“I’ve tried to speed things up,” the All-Star said. “I think the whole thing has gone really smoothly and it’s good for both sides, pitchers and hitters.
“I think people were concerned about it at first, but now they’d be happy.”
Major League Baseball certainly is. During the first half of the season, the new rules shaved off an average of nine minutes, 17 seconds from nine-inning games. The 1,213 nine-inning games this year have averaged two hours, 53 minutes and four seconds; last year’s 2,191 nine-inning games averaged 3:02:21, the longest ever.
Even the Yankees, long notorious for their, well, long games, are playing faster. They average 2:59:39 per nine-inning game now, down from 3:08:17 last season. The Yanks have finished at or above a three-hour average the last 10 years.
“It’s worked,” says CC Sabathia. “I really haven’t noticed it while I’m out there, but I do feel like the games are quicker, that I’m getting home faster.”
He smiles, adding: “That’s always good.”
In addition to making the pace crisper, the initiatives, which include set times both pitcher and hitter must be ready to play after the between-innings break, also shine a light on the philosophical divide between hitters and pitchers.
Some hitters believe they’re the ones absorbing most of the burden because they have to keep one foot in the batter’s box between pitches. Pitchers, naturally, have control of the tempo because nothing happens until they deliver the ball.
“I get warnings and sometimes it kinda makes me laugh – yeah, I step out with two feet but I’m back in the box five seconds before the pitcher is even back on the mound,” says Chase Headley. “But I understand why they’re doing it – this is the rule, whether you’re quick or not.
“I think they’ve done a good job with policing it. I just wish – and I don’t know how you do it – I feel like pitchers can be as slow as they want and there’s nothing a hitter or anyone else can do if a pitcher is slow.”
Warnings from MLB come complete with a web link to video of what you’ve done wrong. Gardner said he’s gotten two, but no fines. “I stepped out when I wasn’t supposed to, just an honest mistake,” Gardner says. There apparently have been few fines. “I don’t know of any, so that’s good,” Headley says.
Some have posited that a wider strike zone is helping gameplay go faster, not just new rules. The Red Sox, in particular, have been vocal about the size of the strike zone this year, though others do not agree.
Joe Torre, the MLB executive VP who is in charge of on-field operations, told members of the Baseball Writers Association of America at the All-Star Game there haven’t been any zone changes. Torre said umps were told to begin calling lower strikes two years ago, but there’s been no further expansion.
“Last year and this year, absolutely no change,” Torre said. “I get texts from managers, and I certainly know where they’re coming from. But the connection with pace of game, pace of play and the strike zone, there’s nothing to it.”
Another issue that could cause future disagreement between MLB and the players is the possible use of a pitch clock. New commissioner Rob Manfred says he likes what he’s seen in the pitch-clock experiments in the minors. Not everyone does.
“If a guy is on base, you’re counting down and you know the pitcher has to do something and the clock is at one second,” Headley says. “I don’t like that.”
For now, though, the current pace-of-play initiatives have gotten to the point where they’re “just part of the game,” Gardner says.
A faster game, on average. “I don’t know whether it attracts fans or keeps fans, but cutting slack time? That’s a good thing,” Headley says.
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Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News Baseball