Baseball has always been the one major sport that plays without a clock. Games could go on for hours on end, and that was part of its charm. That is until now.
MLB’s new rules have taken the league by storm this spring, particularly the pitch clock. Pitchers, hitters, and umpires alike are all trying to get accustomed to the new rules as Opening Day inches closer.
Rich Hill is the oldest active player in the league and he’s pitched for 11 different teams in his 18-year career. He’ll make it an even dozen when he throws his first pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. He’s been around the block a time or two and had a few things to say about these new rules.
Hill joined WEEI’s Rob Bradford on the Audacy Original Podcast “Baseball Isn’t Boring” and sounded off on the new rules, including the pitch clock, and offered a few tweaks that MLB may institute.
“I believe that anytime you’re having an outcome that is in part because of a non-competitive act it’s not sports, it’s especially not baseball,” Hill said. “I think that fans pay good money to come to a major league baseball game to watch the pitcher face the hitter and the hitter face the pitcher… They don’t want to sit there … and see somebody come up to bat in a crucial situation in a tie ballgame and the pitcher on the mound in a crucial situation and the umpire call time and say ‘that’s strike three’ or ‘that’s ball four.’ That is the ultimate non-competitive act.”
“These rules are in place to speed up the game and hopefully, not punish players,” he said. “So if that’s what we’re trying to do why would we not just put another five seconds on the clock? I think that would alleviate a lot of things.”
Hill believes that a lot of nuances throughout the game haven’t been thought out, such as starting the pitch clock after the pitcher has to sprint to back up third base or home plate.
The veteran pitcher has only gotten called for one pitch clock violation through five innings this spring, but it probably shouldn’t have been called anyway.
“The umpire didn’t have his mask down so what we’re going through is this mirroring effect where we’re so used to seeing a natural progression and a flow of the hitter getting into the box, the umpire pulling the mask down, OK, now we step on the mound or vice versa,” he said. “Now it’s you just have to be ready, whatever you see it doesn’t matter, whoever gets there first.”
Mets starter Max Scherzer is one of the pitchers that is looking to take advantage of the clock to mess around with hitters. It’s not surprising and you can’t blame them as they’re just playing within the new rules of the game.
“I’m not going to lie, that’s what I’m trying to do too,’ Hill said. “But it’s complete BS because you’re putting the hitter at a disadvantage and I don’t want to face somebody when they’re not at their best and how can you say they’re at their best and that’s not a competitive advantage when you’re quick pitching guys or guys aren’t ready in the box. It’s not right.”
Pitchers are taught to slow things down and take their time on the mound, especially when things are spiraling out of control. That won’t be possible with the pitch clock.
“You have a young guy out there that you could be detrimentally hurting his career,” Hill continued. “I think that that’s something that is getting overlooked because the mental game of baseball is vitally important that they’re going to have to rewrite the book on some of this stuff.”
It’s not just young guys, though, players’ careers are such a short window that a pitch clock potentially impacting that doesn’t sit well with Hill.
Hill is one of the veteran leaders in the Pirates’ clubhouse and a lot of the guys are on the same page.
“I would say in the locker room there’s not a lot of guys that are in favor of it. I would argue that that’s probably a lot of guys throughout baseball,” he said. “It’s not an issue until it affects you. So if you haven’t had any issues with it, you say ‘well this is great.’ I work quick. I haven’t had issues. I’ve had one ball called on me in five innings and I’m not expecting to have an issue with the clock at all.
“My issue is with taking away the opportunity like we saw in the game with the Braves and the Red Sox and you have no idea how that kid’s going to perform with bases loaded in a 3-2 count or if that pitcher’s going to be able to make that pitch because oop, that’s it.”
Hill has heard some encouraging things from players that experienced the pitch clock in Triple-A, however. Umpires understood how and when to restart the clock and gave some leeway to pitchers that were working quickly throughout their start.
“Like hey, if I stepped off or whatever or had to do something, he would say ‘No, no, reset the clock. He’s been working quick,’” he said. “There’s a feel to all this.”
The Pirates recently had a meeting with commissioner Rob Manfred where these issues were discussed. Hill reiterated that five seconds added to the clock would add enough of a buffer to keep the game at a faster pace but make it more balanced overall, along with the umpires understanding the pace and cadence of the game.
Hill does believe that there may be some changes to the rules coming down the line, though, which would likely benefit the game as a whole.
“I don’t know if they’re 100% dug in so that leads me to say yes, I feel like they will make some tweaks.”
It’s going to be interesting to see these rules implemented in the later innings of a regular-season game. Perhaps the league will get those tweaks in sooner rather than later to balance things out. Until then, however, MLB may need to reconsider some of the new rules.
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