Our Atlanta Braves are off to a tremendous start: a 5-1 road trip is always noteworthy, but there’s two highlights to circle in particular:
a. Sweeping the Cardinals at their own park is an achievement
b. Being essentially just one bad inning away from a 6-0 start should also make Braves Country feel really good about this club after the first week.
But there’s more I want to see about this team… except there’s a pesky pitch clock that’s actually getting in the way of that.
Over the first weekend of the 2023 season, Those Who Keep Track Of Such Things advised us all that the average game length had suddenly cratered by thirty minutes over the same period of time from last season.
Today — after the first full week of games — we were given an update: that time reduction is holding at 29 minutes reduced per game.
Accompanying this, ESPN’s Jeff Passan asked a rhetorical question: “What, exactly, are you losing?”
His own answer to that question was “[only] down time” as the gaps between pitches and between action is being squashed to seemingly nothing at all. Heck, even when “watching” games on-line via the various game-casting website utilities, pitches are coming at what amount to a furious pace.
On balance, yes: this is better for the game. The pacing is tremendous and the action seems practically constant. But are we missing something in the process? Have we thrown the baby out with the bath-water?
In some respects… we have. Here’s a list of the things I’ve been missing:
- The Instant Replay
This first became noticeable when Austin Riley hammered that mammoth homer in the Cards’ series: 473 feet to the left-centerfield concourse. It’s a swing I wanted to see over and over again.
Except we pretty much didn’t. A quickie review and then on to the next batter. Bally didn’t replay it again until several innings later — again, just a quickie.
My wife had stepped away from the TV briefly during that AB, and missed the live shot… she was getting frustrated that she hadn’t been able to see that monster dinger (yes, I have a wonderful wife).
Then it hit me: this wasn’t the only highlight issue… it’s essentially ALL of the highlights that we’re missing. Bally simply doesn’t have time to roll the tape back and give us additional looks of anything. Even when they do run a replay, it’s being cut short as much as possible.
Oh, and “multiple angles?” Forget about it. You’ve got no shot of anything like that. I can’t wait for a replay review to happen just so that we can — maybe — see a multi-angle replay set of that action.
Oh, except that even the managers don’t really have time to even think about challenging plays now, either. I guess it’s gonna have to be something fairly obvious and egregious for such a request to be made from now on. But that’s getting down a bit of a rabbit trail from the main point: if you want to see all the plays of a game, you’d pretty much better have your eyes frozen to the set for 160 straight minutes without blinking or there’s a chance you could miss something important.
That takes us to Point 2…
- No Breaks
At a different point in a game, my wife took the opportunity offered by the end of an inning to make a run to the restroom. Mind you, we’re talking about home here… all of 20 feet away.
By the time this routine task was completed, she returned to find 2 outs in the next inning already.
It wouldn’t have mattered much about whether we were talking about the restroom, popping some popcorn, pouring a beverage, … whatever. You seriously are going to be missing some baseball if you leave the room for virtually any purpose whatsoever.
People have shrugged off the potential impact of a pitch clock to concession vendors at stadiums. The impact in minor league parks, we’ve been told, was minimal. Maybe… and maybe that’s true if patrons plan ahead and stock up early and often.
I just recall being in significant lines at Truist Park for the apparel store or even a burger stand at various times. That plus the travel distance required for getting to and from your seats in a park that size has to have some impact, right?
Personally, I think I might wanna carry more cash in the future so that I can flag down the aisle vendors instead. That might be a good plan. Another thought is that the savvy fan might opt to send a friend who is less-into-the-game for provision runs to the concourse (multiple times).
If all else fails, then plan to arrive at the stadium when the gates open so you can spend your money at your leisure.
- Missing the sideline reporters
Paul Byrd has departed the scene for personal reasons, and I definitely miss his insightful game notes, but as it happens, we’re now missing… well, everybody else.
There’s fewer opportunities to thrown the broadcast to anyone else now. Brandon Gaudin is clearly the consummate professional, but I’ll bet he’s sweating it out now since baseball suddenly has the action previously limited to NBA or hockey games.
[Okay, maybe it’s more like the last 2 minutes of an NFL game… but his pace is also clearly heightened as he and Frenchy have to try and keep up with matters themselves].
Along with that, we’re seeing fewer camera shots of the moon, the sunsets, cute kids in the stands, replays of awesome fan-involved foul ball catches… everything like that. We’re seeing live action and almost only live action because the folks “in the truck” are clearly paranoid that they will miss something important.
I can understand that, and maybe you don’t miss those things… but I kinda do.
As a related bit, whoever is working the status panel at the bottom of the screen for Bally needs some help. They clearly can’t keep up either. Between deciphering pitch clock violations, resetting the clock display, and even monitoring balls and strikes… there’s no rest for the weary.
- When the wheels come off…
There’s an element of baseball that we’ve seen play out a lot in times’ past: if things are spinning out of control for you (particularly if you’re a pitcher), then a timeout, a mound visit, a lap around the mound has always been there to give you a second to breathe and mentally regroup.
While driving home the other day, I was listening to a Diamondbacks/Padres matchup. Arizona was mounting a furious — and ultimately successful — comeback in the late innings.
In that game’s 8th frame, Arizona pushed 4 runs across in the blink of an eye. It was an inning that spiraled quickly: single, steal, groundout (advancing the runner), sacrifice bunt in which everybody was safe, another steal, a single, a throwing error by the pitcher, and finally a walk by the clearly rattled pitcher.
Finally, a pitching change was made, but the Padres — in addition to them having trouble slowing down the pace — couldn’t get anybody throwing quickly enough to bring in.
Even after that mound swap, Arizona mustered a single, sac fly, a steal of home, and finally a pop out.
Teams are clearly going to have to figure out ahead of time just how to manage their affairs when Bad Things Happen since they clearly don’t have enough time to do so in the midst of pitch clock chaos.
The Bottom Line
I don’t want to throw out the whole pitch clock idea. The idea of saving close to 30 seconds per batter is eye-opening… but maybe, just maybe, we can do a little better by saving only 20 seconds per batter?
Maybe we can preserve a bit of the things we are losing from the last few… decades… of baseball?
I for one would like to relive a lot of the highlights from events in our Braves’ games. I expect there are gonna be a lot of them this season.
Yep – my wife was the inspiration for this post.