07 Feb PITCH CLOCK HITS BATTERS, TOO
The game of baseball won’t be quite the same this year, not in the Big Leagues and not in the Frontier League, either.
From now on, forget about pitchers taking their own sweet time on the mound in between pitches. And forget about hitters taking their own sweet time adjusting all their gear and wiggling around in the batter’s box.
Those days are gone.
The 2023 baseball season will begin a new era in the Major Leagues and in the Frontier League, the nation’s largest MLB independent partner league. Beginning this year, both the pitcher and the batter must obey the new “pitch clock” that will be displayed in every ballpark, or else they’ll face an instant penalty of a called “ball” if the pitcher takes too long or a called “strike” if the hitter isn’t ready to hit in the batter’s box.
When the New Jersey Jackals take the field for the first time at their new home, Paterson’s historic Hinchliffe Stadium, in May, visitors will see things they’ve never seen at any ballpark before: one countdown clock behind home plate for the pitcher and infielders to see and another clock in the outfield for the batter and catcher to see.
And the new manager of the Jackals likes the new rules.
“I’ve always wanted pitchers to get the ball and pitch,” said P.J. Phillips, the youngest manager in the league at age 36, who managed the Lexington Legends, of the independent Atlantic League last year.
“I don’t think the new rules will make much of a difference to pitchers, just less wasting time. If anything, they could have more of an impact on the batter. He may want to take a deep breath after he misses a pitch. You might want to clear your head, but now the batter won’t have that kind of time. He’s got to snap right back and be ready.”
Major League Baseball experimented with the pitch clock last year in affiliated minor leagues and the results were clear: The pace of play quickened, and the overall length of games decreased. In the 2022 experiments, game times were reduced by an average of 26 minutes per game.
In 2023, the Jackals and the rest of the Frontier League will operate under several new rules:
— If there are no runners on base, the pitcher must begin his motion to deliver a pitch within 14 seconds in between pitches.
— If there is at least one runner on base, then the pitcher has 18 seconds.
— If the pitcher takes too long, then the umpire calls a “ball.”
— The batter must be ready to hit at the 9-second mark. If not, then the umpire imposes a “called strike.”
In the Major Leagues, the rules will be slightly different: The pitch clock in the Majors will allow 15 seconds with no runners on base and 20 seconds with at least one runner on base, and the batter must be ready at the 8-second mark.
One other new rule will be identical in both the Majors and in the Frontier League:
The pitcher will be allowed two “disengagements” from the pitching rubber per at-bat, either merely stepping off or throwing to a base to attempt a pickoff. If a pitcher leaves the rubber a third time, that disengagement must result in a successful said pickoff, or else it will be called a balk and the runner will advance.
The Frontier League will have a “grace period” and umpires will just issue warnings on both the pitch clock and pitcher disengagement rules for the first two weeks of the season, then full enforcement will begin on Tuesday, May 30, when the Jackals will be 790 miles away in a Chicago suburb facing the Joliet Jammers. That will be after their home opener at Hinchliffe Stadium against the Sussex County Miners on Saturday night, May 20, the first Fireworks Saturday of the year.
Frontier League president Eric Krupa said in a statement announcing the new rules that they “will increase the pace of Frontier League games and provide our fans a more enjoyable experience when they come out to our ballparks or watch our games on Flo Sports.”
In previous years, the league had already created rules calling for the batter to keep a foot in the batter’s box between pitches and to limit the number of pitching mound visits, all in efforts to quicken a game’s pace and shorten its overall length.
“It worked in the affiliated leagues last year and it will work here,” said Phillips, who takes charge of a New Jersey team that finished 45-49 last season.
Back in his playing days, when Phillips was a second-round draft pick of the Anaheim Angels, the new clock would not have bothered him at all as a hitter.
“If I missed a pitch, I wanted to get right back in there and get another chance at another pitch,” he said. “If I need to, I’ll talk to some of the guys about it, but they’ll see what’s happening and they’ll adjust. They’ll have to.”
JACKALS JUICE: Last year’s team finished in sixth place in the East Division despite leading the entire league in hitting, pointing to an obvious shortage of quality pitching that resulted in the league’s third worst team ERA. But, New Jersey is spending the offseason trying to fortify a new-look pitching staff that includes the addition of two top hurlers acquired in trades with the Miners. Righties John Baker and Dwayne Marshall both turn 25 years old in February. Marshall, from Summit, went 11-3 with a 2.67 ERA last year; Baker was 12-2 with a 2.66 ERA and these incredible stats: 122 strikeouts with just 19 walks… Jackals open 96-game season on the road May 11, traveling 31 miles north to Pomona, NY, to face the New York Boulders. From there, they’ll head 500 miles north for a three-game series with the defending champion Quebec Capitales before their first-ever homecoming in Paterson.
By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.