By Jason Stark, Patrick Mooney, Nick Groke, S. Trent Rosecrans and Andy McCullough
MLB’s 15 Opening Day games lasted an average of 2 hours and 45 minutes Thursday, 26 minutes less than last year’s average, indicating a successful start to the regular season for the pitch clock introduced to shorten games as part from the league’s new rule changes. Here’s what you need to know:
- Last year’s Opening Day, with seven games played, lasted an average of 3 hours and 11 minutes.
- None of the first seven games completed on Thursday lasted as long as the average time of last year’s Opening Day games.
- Only two of the first seven games completed this year were longer than the shortest opening day game last year. The shortest of last year’s opening day games was 2 hours and 49 minutes.
- Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman committed the first clock violation of the regular season, while Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers was the first hitter called for a pitch clock violation on Thursday.
More remarkable numbers
On Thursday, one of two games in the top seven that lasted 2:49 or longer was a 10-9 Orioles victory over the Red Sox that lasted 3 hours, 10 minutes.
The Reds vs. Pirates game lasted 3 hours and 2 minutes. The game had 15 runs and 26 strikeouts, and neither team lasted more than five innings.
Athleticinstant analysis of:
How did the watch perform on the field?
By the end of spring training, it seemed like everyone had not only gotten used to the pitch clock, but had almost forgotten about it — except when celebrating an hour and 52-minute game, as Reds starter Graham Ashcraft did late in the spring.
On Thursday, however, both the Pirates and Reds starters had pitch clock violations, and both appearances ended in home runs for the batter. Is this related? Probably not, but there are more signs of a shakeout in the regular season than in the spring when results don’t matter.
In the end, though, even if the game felt like a rough one, especially with 15 walks and 26 strikeouts, the posted game time was still only 3:02, which a year ago would have been considered a fast game. — Rosecrans
On-field clock effects overturned in Reds, Pirates Opening Day game
I’m here to report that the clock works on the West Bank as well. Take the game between the Padres and the Rockies. San Diego starter Blake Snell was operating at his usual ineffective clip. He needed 24 deliveries to complete the first innings. He had thrown 70 pitches through three. The reliever behind him wasn’t much better in a 7-2 loss to Colorado. The box score would suggest a race that was lagging behind at a feeble pace. And the game still finished in 2:56, 10 minutes shorter than the average game in 2022.
The other late games were just as tepid. The Mariners completed a clean sweep of the Guardians 3-0 in 2:14. The Athletics beat the Angels 2-1 in 2:30. The Dodgers outscored the Diamondbacks 8-2 in just 2:35 — and it was a game that featured five different Arizona pitchers and multiple pitching changes in the middle of the inning.
It’s hard to argue with the early results. Time will tell — pardon the pun — the long-term implications of the clock. But you can’t question the dead air reduction. — McCullough
What do Opening Day times tell us about the impact of the clock?
Spring training games have gone wild at a pace we haven’t seen in more than 40 years. Games lasted an average of two hours and 35 minutes in the spring — 26 minutes shorter than last spring and 31 minutes shorter than the average regular season game last year.
No one in the sport thought the pace was sustainable this year once the season started, for all sorts of logical reasons. But 2:40? Maybe 2:45? There was real optimism that an average somewhere in that range was doable. And Thursday’s games seemed to prove it.
The first nine games of the day averaged exactly 2:45. Five were lower than that. Only four were longer.
Even a 10-9 game in Boston — which featured 44 baserunners, 10 pitching changes, two pinch hitters and two pinch runners — lasted only 3:10. A year ago on Opening Day, a 3-1 Astros-Angels game — with the participation of only 18 base competitors — took 3:15. And not one game all day was completed in 2:45.
So what did Thursday’s game time tell us? Pitch clocks can bring their share of violations and unintended consequences. But do they work? Do they vacuum all dead time from these games? Do they reduce play time to a manageable length? This is not even in doubt. — Stark
What are they saying
Stroman committed the offense in the third inning of Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Brewers with Christian Yelich at bat and no outs. The offense was called off after Stroman turned to look at Bryce Turang leading off second base. He sidestepped a possible walk to Yelich after the fly ball made it 2-2.
Stroman spent part of spring training throwing a World Baseball Classic that didn’t include a pitch clock and admitted there were times he felt “super rushed” on the mound.
“I don’t think people really realize that it just adds another level of thinking,” Stroman said. “You have to be aware of the clock. You try to worry about the pitch. You try to worry about the base guys. You try to worry about your grip. There’s so much going on right now.”
He gave up three walks and three hits while striking out eight. Stroman noted that he is a pitcher “who can come off the mound and take a breather when I need to.”
“I don’t get to do that anymore,” Stroman said. “Breathing is very important to line up the body and put yourself in the perfect position to serve the ball to the plate. Like I said, I think it messes up a lot of guys’ pre-pitch routines, which can ultimately affect how they perform on the pitch.”
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking on the air during the Rangers’ telecast Thursday, said the league won’t “nail its feet” on the pitch clock. Manfred said he hopes the referees will show some discretion at the end of games to allow for slower, tense moments. During spring training, managers and players around the league expressed concern that a game could end on a pitch clock violation or amid a situation where a tight game becomes too rushed for the moment.
As Manfred spoke, the Texas game was halted for several minutes after Jacob deGrom’s PitchCom device malfunctioned.
In the Red Sox game against the Orioles, Devers walked out of the batter’s box in the eighth inning and was not benched within eight seconds of returning, leading to his foul. He struck out after the foul as he already had two strikes. Baltimore won 10-9.
Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson was asked about the rules before Wednesday’s practice.
“Oh, I have a lot of ideas,” Swanson said. “I just don’t need them giving me trouble. I definitely think there are some adjustments that can be made. But as I said very early on, we have three options. One is to just complain about it all year, which won’t do anyone any good. The second is simply to embrace it and find ways to use it to our advantage. The third will be that no one plays, and I don’t think that will happen either. So we have one option left and that’s just to embrace it and use it to our advantage and do the best we can to play this new brand of baseball.”
MLB introduced the on-field clock in the spring with the goal of streamlining entertainment for fans. Pitchers get 20 seconds to start their pitches with runners on base and 15 seconds to do so with the bases empty. Umpires award a ball to pitchers who do not start their movement before the clock expires and a strike to batters who are not in the bullpen and “warn the pitcher” within eight seconds.
The commissioner’s office said in September that the introduction of a pitch clock in the minor leagues last year reduced the average time of games by 25 minutes.
(Photo: Michael Reeves/Getty Images)