Pace of play needs addressing, but the pitch clock should be the last resort

58 Comments

I have mixed feelings in the wake of this morning’s report that baseball is, at least for the minors, considering implementing a pitch clock.

On the one hand, yes, I would like to see the pace of play improved and to do that you have to deal with the batter-pitcher interaction, getting both sides to speed things up. On the other hand, I can’t help but think the pitch clock should be a last resort in this regard, not the first move. My opposition to the pitch clock, has a lot of elements to it, no single one of which is major, but taken together feel like a lot.

It would be a visual distraction. Broadcasters would be flashing it on and off the screen and talking about it all the time. Managers and players would use replay challenges or, at the very least, argue about when it was started and stuff. Technical glitches would happen. Less concretely, it would put lie to the old — and good — saying about how baseball doesn’t have a clock. There’s just a football element to it that I don’t much like.

But more significantly, I am a person who prefers that problems attempt to be solved by the least intrusive means first and that more drastic measures be taken if and only if less intrusive measures prove ineffective. Baseball hasn’t done that yet.

What it could do: simply make the umpires enforce a time limit in which pitchers must throw pitches. The rule book says 12 seconds. Fine, many around the game have said that 12 seconds is too fast, so make it the 20 seconds to which a pitcher is subject under the clock rule. Baseball can, with a simple directive to umpires, ask that this rule be emphasized, just as it has often done so regarding other rules in the past. Have some meetings in spring training and tell everyone, “hey, we’re going to be making a point of this, OK? Don’t say you weren’t warned.” Yes, I realize that can lead to some subjective umpiring. One pitcher may get 22 seconds and another called at 19. But it’s also the case that, if the pace of play is not otherwise a problem in a given game, it will become a non-issue.

The broader problem I see here — which I wrote about back in August — is that a pitch clock is just the latest example of Major League Baseball’s habit of adding unnecessary rules and unnecessary components of new rules when smaller moves might solve the problem. Baseball felt the All-Star Game wasn’t holding people’s interest, so they made it decide home field advantage in the World Series. They felt they had a problem with small market teams not being able to compete, so rather than give them money or draft picks, they put them in a silly competitive balance lottery. They felt they had a problem with calls being missed so rather than simply solve that with a straightforward replay system that would allow umpires to correct their own mistakes, they added an unnecessary manager’s challenge. They felt they had a problem with catchers getting hurt on plate collisions so they made a new rule rather than enforcing existing rules about when catchers can and cannot block the plate.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but baseball has been a big fan of 90 degree turns and long arcs these days. And of taking the officiating of the game out of the umpire’s bailiwick and putting it into the players’ and managers’.

Maybe a pitch clock will ultimately prove necessary. Or, maybe, if implemented it will prove to not be an issue at all. Heck, for that matter, maybe this is all just a negotiating tactic by the owners, aimed at getting the union to agree to a stepped-up enforcement of existing rules to begin with. But that possibility notwithstanding, I am always skeptical of radical change being Step 1 rather than being taken if and only if a less radical solution is not first attempted.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
0 Comments

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.