Pitchers are adamant: MLB’s pitch clock will give them an edge over hitters. Will spring training games prove it?
Dunedin, Florida. Chris Bassitt waited all two innings before turning on the innings timer against George Springer. On Thursday, in the very first match of his real-time workout against the heavy hitters from Toronto, the veteran right-hander watched the game with plenty of time left, then he held the ball – tick, tick, tick – until there was just one second left. Then he turned and fired.
Armed with a wide arsenal of pitches and solid ideas on how to use them, Bassitt is known to be often mentioned in conversations about pitchers who might find it difficult to handle the addition of a 15- or 20-second pitch timer. But in fact, he’s one of many pitchers who expresses confidence that hitters will actually have a harder time adjusting to change.
“I think we’ll quickly realize,” Bassitt said, “that it’s more of a question, ‘How can we use this against attackers?’
During MLB’s spring training camp, teams hosted live batting practices, game setups in which pitchers face off-handed hitters behind them. Everyone develops new habits, but the pitchers (as always) make the first move in this particular game of chess.
“Pitchers are going to try to start using him as a weapon,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said, citing feedback he’s heard from minor league players and coaches who have played actual timed games.
Their optimism is understandable, but there is no denying that there will be plenty to think about on the hill in 2023. Bassitt, in the same session, waited too long in at least one pitch, and pitching coach Pete Walker said it would have been an automatic ball.
In a similar live BP on Wednesday at the Atlanta Braves camp, ace Max Freed sliced and sliced his teammates in his first simulated inning before feeling a little rushed in the second. After Ronald Acuña, Jr. hit a home run on a ledge deep in left field, a puzzled Freed said the timer had already hit four when he looked up. Finally, he yelled to ask who was running the clock.
Braves manager Brian Snitker later said that Fried was right – it seemed like they could start the timer earlier than the rules required – but his moment of frustration took its toll.
“I think it will take some getting used to,” Snitker said.
We’ll get a better idea of how the pitching timer will affect the game – and the balance of power between pitchers and hitters – when teams play their first spring practice games on Friday and Saturday. Pleading your case with the watch operator will no longer be an option.
Maintain an advantage?
In figuring out how to use the pitching timer, Bassitt and his mound mates focused on a less discussed bright line in baseball’s new countdown: eight seconds. In eight seconds, the attackers must be in the box and on the alert. At this point, pitchers can throw the ball into the plate—ready or not—or simply hold onto it and make the batter squirm.
“Hutters are the ones who do something between every hit, every pitch,” said Blue Jays starter Kevin Gausman. “There is a way to make it an advantage for us. We just have to find out what it is, right? Like, we wait up to one second to throw the field? Or do we want to drop it very quickly? So they’re thinking, like, “I can’t try to time it,” right?
However, most players and coaches expect forwards to quickly figure out the eight-second rule. New York Yankees superstar Aaron Judge tried the BP live timer for the first time this week and has had to get used to it.
“I completely forgot about it until about three innings, and then I had to kind of hold myself back because I got into the box after about eight or nine seconds,” Judge said. “It’s hit one, hit two, hit three on me.”
Will he have to actively work on this for a long time? Hardly.
“I think once we’ve played a couple of games,” he said, “take a couple of balls and just get used to it, I think the game will run its course.”
Perhaps the preferred method would be stare, set and freeze, hold.
“I think guys who are comfortable enough on the ball will be key,” Schneider said. “I always say: an eight second delay that you have never seen. Someone called the time, or someone came out. So it’s kind of back in place.”
New York Mets star Max Scherzer also said the timer works in his favor as he learns to play with forwards’ expectations.
“It just drives them crazy when they’re holding the ball,” he told Sportzshala Sports. “Strikers are so hungry for rhythm.”
Slow down when speeding up the game
Adapting to the new rules is not just about throwing the ball or getting into the box faster.
The timer also adds limits on . With two “cuts” allowed for each plate appearance – if you don’t want to risk an automatic runner advance if you fail on your third try – the calculations and stakes for each selection have changed.
‘While in the past the old saying [was]”Don’t show them everything you’re capable of,” now it’s like “Everyone you choose has to be the best,” Gausman said. “You only have two to work with. So it will definitely add a new element to trying to beat the game.”
There will be unforeseen ripple effects, small moments and routine that no one has considered strategic until now. Snitker mentioned that some hurlers will have to break the habit of “following the ball” or going to the plate after the pitch.
“Things will come up this spring that MLB hasn’t even thought of,” Gausman predicted. “During the season you will have veteran guys who will fight some of the judges.”
How long does a pitcher have to regroup after a play he covers first? How far can the catchers stretch it before returning the ball to the pitcher? Freedom of action, or lack of it, in judgments about following the rules will be the biggest lesson learned from game actions.
But most of all, the games will give a first real look at all the factors mixed together. What happens when you combine the increased pressure of controlling baserunners—or driving them—with shrinking hours?
“It’s just going to be harder to slow down the game when it’s needed,” Blue Jays reliever Trent Thornton said.
Snitker said he plans to teach his catchers to use the mound visit to save flustered pitchers before they retire and lose one of their outs, while Toronto manager Schneider pondered how hitters should use their one granted timeout on bat game. after he spotted catcher Danny Jansen jump into the box at the nine-second mark “with that ‘oh shit’ look on his face”.
“I think you’re going to get into some tough situations where, you know, a guy comes out on an 8-, 9-, 10-pitch bat and he’s struggling. He tries to collect his thoughts and his heartbeat and gets there around eight. [seconds]”, – said Schneider. – You just don’t want the third strike to be called that.