Sources: MLB mulls tweaks to pitch clock rules

Major League Baseball’s competition committee is weighing a proposal that would reduce the pitch clock with runners on base from 20 seconds to 18 next season, aiming to reverse a late-season trend that saw the average time of game increase by seven minutes, sources told ESPN.

MLB’s competition committee, which includes six members representing teams, four players and one umpire, heard the proposal to shave the clock as well as cut down mound visits from five per game to four, sources said

The 15-second clock without runners on base would remain the same, sources said.

The competition committee can implement a change to on-field rules with 45 days’ notice to players after a proposal. Players are currently discussing the proposal and expect to go back to the committee with suggestions on potential adjustments, sources said.

The first spring training game will be played Feb. 22, and the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres will open the regular season March 20-21 with a two-game series in Seoul.

Players have voiced concerns regarding the reduction of the clock, sources said, pointing to the spate of pitching injuries that hindered the sport in 2023. MLB has pushed back on the idea that sped-up pace of game caused the injuries, and because teams hold a majority of seats on the committee — which was formed during negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2022 — the league essentially has carte blanche on rules changes.

Multiple pitchers not in the most recent competition-committee meeting but familiar with the discussions said they would be more open to a reduction of the clock with runners on base if it were countered with a longer clock with the bases empty. But MLB showed no inclination to move off the 15-second rule, sources said.

The implementation of the clock in the 2023 season was widely regarded as a success, with the average time of a nine-inning game decreasing from 3 hours, 4 minutes to 2 hours, 40 minutes. The time increased throughout the season as hitters and pitchers adjusted to the new rules, which allow hitters one timeout per plate appearance and pitchers two disengagements from the mound with runners on.

The average game time was 2:37 in April and May but jumped to 2:39 in June, 2:40 in July, 2:41 in August and 2:44 in September.

Of the 1,094 pitch-clock violations in 2023, 14% came with runners on base. On average, pitchers began their deliveries with 6.5 seconds remaining on the 15-second clock and 7.3 seconds left on the 20-second clock.

Most minor league games were played this year with a 14-second clock with the bases empty and 18 seconds with runners on — and for the final month of the Triple-A season, a universal 17-second clock was tested. In the Arizona Fall League, MLB used 15 seconds with the bases empty and 18 with runners on.

Major league teams averaged 2.3 mound visits per game and exceeded four visits in 2% of games.

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