Red Sox closer says pitch clock is hurting pitchers, does he have a point?

Kenley Jansen
Kenley Jansen / Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/GettyImages

Going into the 2023 MLB season, pitching was believed to be one of the key strengths for the Toronto Blue Jays. In terms of their starting rotation, led by Cy Young finalist Alek Manoah, they were stacked one through five with former and current No. 1 starters, and their steady and reliable bullpen was back for another year, with new addition Erik Swanson in the fold too.

However, what the Jays didn’t expect was the fact that those pitchers that have provided the consistency and reliability in the past suddenly found themselves struggling to find their groove in 2023. Not only that, but a couple pitchers would go down suddenly with an injury they had never experienced before. So what was happening and why?

Well, apparently three-time All-Star and World Series champion Kenley Jansen, the current closer for the Boston Red Sox, may have the answer to that. It appears the culprit may have to do with MLB new rule change involving the implementation of the pitch clock to help speed up the game, as Jansen joined WEEI’s Rob Bradford on the Audacy’s “Baseball Isn’t Boring” Original Podcast to discuss his concerns about it.

One major concern that Jansen touched on was the fact that pitchers have to go through an adjustment period to adapt to the pitch clock. In particular, their timing between pitches has been greatly affected by it.

"I’m not going to lie to you. It feels totally different … that pitch clock, man. It’s something else. But we have to adjust to it. I’m not the type that’s going to complain about it. This game is a game of adjustment and that’s what they want us to do … What would you do if there’s no pitch clock there? You learn how to slow down the game, reset your mind, go back out there and attack the zone. That’s the one thing for me. I’m learning how to adjust to that. As a closer, what you learn is to slow the game down because the game will speed up on you … it will speed up quick on you. That’s the challenging part. I have to figure that part out still."

This could definitely explain why the dominant duo of Yimi García and Jordan Romano for the Jays’ backend of the bullpen had been struggling this year. Usually making their appearance in the latter parts of games, if what Jansen claimed holds true, they haven’t adjusted properly yet to the speed of the game and to deliver effectively with the reduced down time between pitches.

Jansen would go on to provide valuable insight on the potential use of the pitch clock leading to possible injuries as well. Unlike in previous years, when pitchers would be allowed to take their time to recover and reset between pitches, the pitch clock takes away that apparent luxury, leaving the pitcher more susceptible to injuries that they wouldn’t have encountered in the past.

"Your body feels different now. I’m not a person that gets sore so quick. You’re not pacing yourself out there. Hey, if this is better for the game then we’ve got to figure out how to train ourselves to make sure recover well because pitchers are getting hurt out there right now … You’re playing with somebody’s career and basically might blow out. I’m not criticizing, but I’m speaking the reality. It’s a love-and-hate thing, because I love it, honestly, but you hate it also."

This would make the injuries to both Adam Cimber and Zach Pop in the past few weeks that much more comprehensible, because for both pitchers, they didn’t have much of an injury history prior to this year (none for Cimber, and only one for Pop, to be exact). Cimber went down with a right rhomboid strain, and Pop a right hamstring strain, each occurring after making a pitching appearance in which they struggled to get opposing batters out.

Jansen also emphasized that the starters, in particular, could be affected the most.

"Just thinking about it, if you have a car and you are constantly racing it, what are you going to do? A hose is going to blow. Something is going to blow. If you want us to be 100 percent every pitch, something is going to happen. I understand you’re trying to cut 20 or 30 minutes out of the game … But you have to see what is beneficial for all of us as pitchers. Especially for starters, starters don’t get enough time to recover anymore."

If Jansen’s hypothesis holds any weight, then this could explain what has been ailing Manoah for much of 2023. The Jays’ phenom had been practically unstoppable in his first two seasons with the ballclub when the pitch clock was non-existent. However, in 2023, his control and command appears totally off, with many of his pitches not reaching the locations he normally hits, leading to less swing and misses and many batters getting on base. If he wasn’t getting enough time to recover between pitches, with a starter generally throwing between 80-100 pitches per start, it could severely affect his effectiveness as the game progresses. Veteran pitchers like Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt may have the right composure and experience to make the right adjustments, but for someone practically young and fresh in the big leagues in comparison like Manoah, it may become a steeper learning curve.

Jansen’s words definitely hold great value here, as this was coming from a star, veteran reliever with over 14 years of experience in the major leagues, who has practically experienced and seen just about everything over the years. To conclude on his thoughts about the pitch clock, he also provided some words of wisdom:

"I think it’s a year of experiencing stuff for everybody to figure it out because you don’t know how you’re going to feel. You know how you feel right now, but you don’t know how you are going to feel in June, July, August and September. It’s a long season … I hope MLB is learning from all of this to make the game better ... I think this is the year we all have to learn and not be stubborn about it and what can we do to be better … We don’t want guys blowing out because of something that is causing that. Hopefully, we all learn going forward."

He definitely still believes there may be a place for utilization of the pitch clock, but it will need to be an ongoing, learning experience from both MLB and the players to find the optimal way to implement it safely and effectively to make the game that everyone loves that much better.