As the MLB owners and players square off on the free agency argument there is another story that has fallen off the radar lately. This issue is the pace of play and more specifically the pitch clock.
For the moment the pitch clock conversation appears to be dead. Some other rule changes have made their way to reality though. All of these changes are intended to pick up the pace between innings and get through the game quicker. My issue is why do we even want to get through the game quicker? The game is wonderful and great, leave it alone people! It seems that they would rather sacrifice the game itself rather than looking at the fact that commercial breaks are at all time highs and that they advertise everything to death during any sporting event. Sorry for the rant I could not hold that one in much longer.
Anyways let us say that the pitch clock was instituted today along with the other new rules. In the Minor Leagues, there is a 20-second pitch clock on every pitch once the inning starts. The penalty for the pitcher failing to deliver the pitch in that 20 seconds cost them a ball to the hitter. This seems so slatted against the pitcher for multiple reasons. Including the one reason for me writing this article which we will get to in a moment. This could rush the pitcher into throwing a mistake pitch that becomes a meatball for a professional hitter.
The big thing I am surprised that has not been taken advantage of thus far at the Minor League level is a resurgence of stolen bases. If you are looking at the pitcher while on first base and the pitch clock is winding down with a good running count, how do you not take a cheat step toward second and bolt? There are plenty of variables in play but this is yet another thing for the pitcher to think about when constrained to a time limit to put the ball in play. In play could be the pitcher throwing to first to try and pick off the runner but how honest is that really keeping a good baserunner within these time constraints.
So has there been more stolen bases in Double A and Triple A since 2015 when these rules were implemented? Last season the International League had a total of 1,196 steals in 2017. In the year prior to the implementation of the rule, there were 1,145 stolen bags. This appears to not be an issue at face value but I would state this is more about how the game is played today. Today everything is centered around the big inning and home runs. Baserunning has taken a back seat as the mashers pop homer after homer.
Just to give an example of what the right player could do with this possible extra step. If you were able to give
another edge like this I think his record of 1,406 steals would be even more ridiculous. Rickey was known for finding clever ways to getting a jump on pitchers by finding out what makes them tick. Rickey was the best-stolen base artist of all time and already had obscene jumps on pitchers. Imagine if he had an extra step as he saw the clock winding down and the first move of a pitcher toward home. Things could have gotten insane.
There is no defense for a well-trained base runner that all of a sudden has the pitcher pressed up against a time limit. You don’t even have to have the tools that Rickey had to get a few extra steals in a season. For a team that has good baserunners, this could be the difference between scoring a few extra runs in a season that could put them in a playoff spot. Simple math as more runners in scoring position usually translates into more runs scored.
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For the Blue Jays steals have always been hard to come by. Last season the Jays managed just 53 steals as a team. That was second to last in the Majors and well below the league average of 84 steals. Kevin Pillar and Ezequiel Carrera combined to steal 25 of the team’s total bases. This is an area the Blue Jays could improve in and they should be trying to get more athletic players into their MLB roster. These players are on the way in the Minors in Roemon Fields, Dalton Pompey, and so on.
The Blue Jays could start to preach this in the Minor Leagues with the pitch clock to have an edge if it is ever implemented at the MLB level. A team philosophy based around grinding out at-bats and terrorizing pitchers on the base paths is a forgotten art in baseball these days. Here we are in the days of the pitcher as sluggers reach new heights in strikeouts in a single season. We are overdue for a shift in the game and the first to centralize around a new idea could take it all. Get back to reading pitchers and watch this pitch clock bury them as Blue Jays get back to being solid on the bases.