MLB

Is There a Time Limit Between Pitches in the MLB?

Clayton Kershaw

As baseball evolves to meet the needs of the 21st-century consumer, MLB officials continue to look at rule changes. These include initiatives to improve the pace of play. While baseball is still an incredibly popular sport, the games do take a long time to play out. MLB is looking to curtail this.

One question that can help baseball address its pace of play issue is addressing the amount of time between pitches. But does baseball already have rules for this in place and if so, is it enforced? 

Pitchers who take a long time to deliver the ball

Before determining the current rules regarding time limits for pitchers, it helps to look at how long pitchers are currently taking to deliver the ball. 

Many pitchers are hard throwers who work quickly. Others are more demonstrative, taking their time to make their pitches. When modern pitchers are left to their own devices, they’re definitely slowing down. Over a 10-year time frame, the average time between pitches went from 21.5 seconds in 2007 to 23.8 seconds in 2017.

To provide context on just how high the longest wait times are, see this 2018 piece in The Score. The starting pitchers with the longest time between pitches in 2018 were:  

  • Sonny Gray: 28.3 seconds
  • Alex Cobb: 27.3 seconds
  • Yu Darvish: 27.1 seconds
  • Justin Verlander/Jason Hammel/Jeremy Hellickson: 26.9 seconds

When any of these pitchers were on the mound last season, it was pretty clear that fans wouldn’t be able to head home early. Starters weren’t the only culprits, however. Here are the relief pitchers with the longest times: 

  • Pedro Baez: 31.1 seconds
  • Bud Norris: 30.6
  • Joaquin Benoit: 30 seconds
  • Cory Gearrin: 29.9 seconds
  • Tyler Clippard/Chris Beck: 29.8 seconds

The relievers’ highest totals surpassed the starters. While starters taking a long time between pitches will obviously have a higher impact on the game than relievers as they’re in the game longer, the seconds still add up. 

What measures baseball is taking to limit the time between pitches

As baseball examines various tactics to speed up the pace of play, one popular idea that’s been discussed is using a pitch clock between pitches.

While MLB hasn’t incorporated the clock during regular season games yet, they did experiment with one this pre-season. Baseball America reported that they adopted a 20-second pitch clock for spring training 2019. However, ESPN reported MLB may not implement this until 2022, however.

The current rules on time limits between pitches in MLB 

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As the debate rages on regarding limiting time between pitches, the weirdest part of this discussion is that a rule about this already exists. According to the MLB rule book, if a pitcher has no runners on base he has 12 seconds to deliver a pitch. It states: 

Rule 8.04: “When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call ‘Ball.'”

The issue here is that the rule is never enforced. The evidence clearly shows that pitchers regularly take their time to deliver pitches without facing any type of negative consequences. An umpire may occasionally command a pitcher to quit stalling and throw his pitch, but that hypothetical warning would surely come well after 12 seconds. 

If baseball wants to take a step in the direction of shortening games, they could start by actually acting on the existing rule. The difference between 12 and 20+ seconds may not seem like a lot, but over the course of a game and multiplied over 27 batters, it could save precious minutes.

When combined with other game-shortening measures, that goes a long way in making the game easier for fans to watch and enjoy.