PORT STREET. LUCIE — Buck Showalter’s reflections on spring training often oscillate between the amusing and the informative, with the incongruity somewhere in between. The shot clock has been a particular point of fascination this spring, and he keeps coming back to a question: What does it mean for beer sales?
The veteran captain has a point: Through Saturday, spring training games last an average of 2:36, 25 minutes less than last spring. It’s 25 minutes less to buy beers and concessions.
The shot clock is to thank for the decrease in time and the increase in the pace of the game. Pitchers seem to like the new rule and the advantage it gives them to dictate that pace.
The timer’s focus has, naturally, been on the pitchers. But it seems that it is the hitters who have to make the most adjustments.
“It can be fast,” Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor said before leaving camp to join Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. “The first two at-bats, they were quick. The only thing I have to remember is to look at the pitcher with nine seconds left.”
Pitchers have 15 seconds between pitches and 20 if a runner is on base. Batters must be in the box with eight seconds left on the clock and are no longer free to call timeout and “disconnect” from the at-bat. The traditional routines of tightening the Velcro on gloves and taking multiple practice swings out of the box need to be reduced. It is the responsibility of the batter to be ready and signal to the pitcher that he is ready by looking directly at him.
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“I’m always in the box, but I look at the dugout or I look at the catcher and I look around, and all of a sudden I’m like, ‘Ah!’” Lindor said. “I don’t want to get a strike call because I’m looking at first baseman. I think I’ll be in the box all the time, I just don’t know if I’m going to be looking at the pitcher every time. I’m sure they’ll eventually beat me up for it.”
A pitcher who pitches to an unsuspecting batter with his eyes downcast can be dangerous. But still, the shot clock gives pitchers a fair amount of control. We’ve seen Max Scherzer try to stare at hitters as an attempt to waste time on a pitch, only to pitch as soon as he was ready on the next one.
While Mets hitters appreciate the game, they’re not about to cede all the power to their opposition.
“I’m excited that they think they have the advantage,” Mets outfielder Mark Canha said. “That’s good. That they think so. It’s good. Overconfidence? That’s what I want.”
Historically, Canha has been a methodical hitter who takes his time outside the box, but there’s no need to worry that he can’t work on the clock.
Still, there are some nuances to the rule that he’s still figuring out, like returning to his outfield position within 15 seconds of chasing down a foul. There was some minor frustration on the part of Mets hitters during the first few weeks of Grapefruit League play, but that was to be expected.
Hitters have to find a mental edge.
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“It’s going to be a lot of mind games,” Canha said. “If you think you have an advantage, I guess maybe it will give you an advantage. And if they want to keep the ball, let them. I don’t feel like that’s something that bothers me too much. I don’t want to read too much into it. I think if you let it bother you, it will bother you. But not me. I’m going to try to do the best I can so it doesn’t bother me.”
There’s another spring addition that allows pitchers to work faster by calling pitches on PitchCom directly from the mound. This allows them to get into the stretch before the batter is ready. But this is just a trial period and the league may not stick around long term.
There will always be the possibility of mix-ups between the pitcher and the catcher, and baseball is all about capitalizing on those mistakes.
“If the catcher signals and the pitcher doesn’t necessarily agree with the pitch that the catcher is throwing, I think that gives the hitter a pretty good advantage because pitchers don’t have time to shake off,” first baseman Pete. Alonso said. “And if they don’t want to throw a pitch, then they’re forced to by the clock. They may not be as doomed, and that may lead me into a mistake in the zone.”
The shot clock has been welcomed by most in baseball, with perhaps the exception of college coaches (Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said it’s “ruining the game” and Arizona State head coach , Willie Bloomquist, called it “a joke”). The fan experience also seems to have improved. A look around Clover Park during a recent Grapefruit League game showed few people staring at their phones for long periods of time. Fans are engaged and faster gameplay will attract more participation.
As for the beer vendors? Maybe they’ll call it a night earlier than they used to. Players surely expect to be doing the same.
“For me, the most important thing is that the game ends quickly,” third baseman Eduardo Escobar said. “You’re going home early.”