Player’s View: Thirteen Pitchers Reflect on the Pitch Clock

Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Games are shorter this season due to the pitch clock, which means that starting pitchers are usually throwing an outing’s worth of offerings in less time than they typically did in previous years. Whereas a quality start of seven innings and 100 pitches might have taken two hours and 15 minutes in the past — this before a call to the bullpen — it can take as little as an hour and 45 minutes in 2023. Those times will obviously vary, with the effectiveness of the opposing pitcher playing a major role, but the fact remains that such an outing now regularly takes place within a more condensed time frame.

How different is this for starting pitchers? Moreover, is throwing that number of innings and pitches in a narrower time frame harder, or is it actually easier? I’ve asked those questions to several pitchers since the start of the season, with their answers sometimes extending to other aspects of the new pitch clock. Here is what they’ve had to say.

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Shane Bieber, Cleveland Guardians: “Good question. To give you a real response on the impact… we’ll probably see at the end of the year after a great big body of work. Right? The number of quality starts, or whatever you want to call them. But for me, personally, I’m not finding much of a difference. I work pretty quick, especially without runners on. Last year, I think I was the second fastest without runners on base. Maybe the first. Wade Miley works extremely fast, as well.

“I think the biggest difference is pitch selection with runners on base — coming set on time, allowing yourself time to vary holds. There’s that extra factor. The stolen base rate is obviously up a bunch, and that’s not because catchers got worse — it’s because there is a huge advantage on the base paths now.

“There are times when it can speed up on you a little bit, and you get winded. I think sometimes rhythm is… you’re not thinking as much, either. There’s a different rhythm this year. Last year, you were in your own rhythm, your own pace, and not thinking about a clock. You didn’t have that external factor. The clock can speed you up, whether it’s in the forefront of your mind or not.”

Zach Eflin, Tampa Bay Rays: “For me personally, I’ve always worked quick, so the clock hasn’t really affected me. It hasn’t made me move any quicker than I normally would have. I feel kind of the same as I did last year if I went seven and 100 pitches. For some other guys, it’s been hard. We’ve seen injuries go up for pitchers, and that could be a direct result of not having time to calm down before you throw your next pitch.

“You have less time to recover in the dugout, but I actually kind of prefer that. I like quick half innings when our team is hitting. Not that I mind when we score a bunch of runs, of course.”

Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals: “You’re training the body to do something different than what it’s done for a long time. If you go seven innings, 100 pitches, most likely you’re cruising most of the game, you’re not really getting into trouble. Your offense can have you on the bench, but that’s not going to affect you as much as your own longer inning might.

“It is less time between pitches now, less time between hitters… When you get into longer at-bats, you’re taught to slow the game down — take another few seconds and whatnot — and now you can’t do that. So, from a math standpoint — number of pitches in X amount of time — it’s different on the body. As for the impact [over a full season], we’re kind of waiting to see. All we can do right now is keep making pitches.”

Chris Flexen, Seattle Mariners: “There is a conditioning aspect, because we’re doing the same amount of work in a shorter time. That happens pitch to pitch, too. Within an inning, you’re going to throw 15 or 20 pitches in six or eight minutes, as opposed to 10 minutes, so there is definitely a work-capacity conditioning that we haven’t seen in the past. Some guys like working faster, so the clock suits them just fine. The guys who prefer working slower are impacted more.”

Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies: “It is different, and it took an adjustment not only in spring training, but also when we got into the regular season. In spring training things can be a little more laid back and controlled, whereas in season it’s go time. The game can speed up on you pretty quickly. But I think the pitch clock has done great things with pace of play, making the game move along at a pace where players are happy, fans are happy, and the entirety of baseball is happy.

“As a starting pitcher, when you’re in the dugout you need to be getting all the rest you need, as quickly as you can. You have to make sure you’re staying hydrated and getting everything in your body that you need to, so that when you go back out there you don’t feel gassed after throwing your warmup pitches. There have been talks around the league about how the pitch clock has potentially been involved in pitchers’ injuries, just because of how quickly you have to be throwing a baseball over and over again. There might be some correlation there. Time will tell with that.

“I enjoy getting out of the dugout and back on the mound, going to work. Obviously, I want my offense to do their thing and put runs on the board for me so that I can feel a little bit more comfortable out there pitching. But again, I like the pace. I’ve adjusted to it, and I like the rhythm that comes with getting right back out there.”

Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays: “I think it’s easier in the shorter window. It’s less time. In anything, you usually mess yourself up the more time you give yourself. As pitchers, we can only stay hot for so long. If you have a three and a half, four hour game, the in-between innings are going to be long. It’s harder to stay locked in, to stay hot, and because of that it might take you a hitter or two to get loose when you go back out there. You might give up a hit, or even a run.”

Rich Hill, Pittsburgh Pirates: “I can’t speak for everybody, but I think everybody is in pretty good shape as far as being able to handle that workload within those time constraints. It might impact some guys, but it comes down to your mental acuity and your ability to understand what it takes to execute pitches when you’re out there.

“As far as [velocity], it’s not going to affect me, but it is something that could possibly come into play for guys who are more max effort. But again, I’m not a velocity guy.”

Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates: “I don’t really know the answer to that. But the game is definitely quicker. As pitchers, you have to really think about those times to take your extra breath and kind of collect yourself a little bit. Overall, I don’t think it’s too much different. It’s probably actually better to get into rhythm more. Your body is hot longer when you don’t have to sit as much in the dugout.

“I don’t think [velocity] will be impacted much. We’re all good athletes, and we all work really hard to make sure our conditioning and stamina are there. I don’t think an extra 10 seconds here and there would make that much difference. If anything, it might be easier to go seven/100 in a shorter time.”

George Kirby, Seattle Mariners: “I think it all depends on the player. I like the pace. As long as I’m keeping my breath under control, I think it’s a lot better than being out there for two and a half hours; I’d rather be out there for two hours. If there are [lengthy half innings when your offense is hitting], you just have to stay ready in the dugout, tunnel, or wherever. Part of your job is to stay warm. But overall, there’s not much of a difference for me.”

Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays: “You can look at it both ways. The [longer window] could mean you’re working more, but it could also mean your offense is doing more and you’re doing less. So it would depend on whether the bulk of that time you’re sitting on the bench waiting for your offense to be done, or you’re pitching. Of course, if you’re going seven, you’re probably rolling pretty well and it’s your offense doing the bulk of the work. That said, I think doing it quicker is better. Less time to throw those pitches is better for your body.”

Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays: “I think it’s relative; it’s unique to the individual on the mound. If you’re used to working a little slower, it might be a little more laborious, or strenuous, to get through seven innings, as opposed to someone who is accustomed to throwing more quickly. It’s one of those things where I worked fast last year, and the pitch clock has allowed me to work maybe even a little faster, and to get into an even better rhythm. I’ve kind of enjoyed that.

“[A long half inning by your team] can have an impact. I’ve actually been bit by the bullet of having a long inning. In Chicago, against the White Sox, we had like a 40-minute inning. I’d finished five innings, and it was like, ‘We’re good.’ It was cold and it had been a long time. So I see both sides. If you reduce the time in the dugout between innings… I like quicker games.”

Nick Pivetta, Boston Red Sox: “Now that we’ve gone through it a few times, we’ve kind of learned it. We’ve learned how to manipulate certain moments to get more time when we need it. Your body just gets used to it. You have that internal clock, and it’s our job to get used to it, right? Competing at such a high level, we get paid to make those adjustments, and to go out and pitch.

“I think the biggest difference is quick innings. If you have a long inning, and then the other pitcher goes out and has a five or six minute inning, that’s a quick turnaround. Last night, for instance, I gave up four runs in the top of the fourth, then [Luis] Castillo pitched a quick bottom of the fourth. I was back out there for the top of the fifth really, really quick, almost before my eyes blinked. That’s an adjustment you have to make, but I’ve been around, so by now I’m used to that. As for the opposite — your team is the one having the long half inning — more rest is never a big deal. You can always throw some balls against the wall. You can throw some weighted balls. You throw into a net if you need to.”

Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals: “It’s not that different for me. If you’re going deep into games, you’re having quick innings. The quickest you can get back on the bench to sit for a few minutes… of course, we have guys who don’t sit down. They’re walking around all the time. But I like to get back and reset.

“I would say the difference is not so much, from what I can tell so far, stress on my body as much as it is stress on the mind. You’re trying to make sequencing calls mid-game, and sometimes you need a few more seconds to work that out based on previous at-bats and whatever. You just don’t have that time. Most of the time you have a good feel for what you want to do next, but sometimes I’m thinking back, ‘All right, this is what I did last time, and this was his reaction.’ Then I’m shaking, shaking, shaking, and suddenly I have three seconds left. You can obviously step off, but for the most part you have to make quicker decisions.

“As far as sitting in the dugout [between innings], listen, if my offense wants to score 15 runs every inning when I’m pitching, I’m all for it. I’ll keep my body loose however I need to. I’ll gladly take those runs.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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mariodegenzgz
10 months ago

Great stuff, as always. Faster pace means a different type of conditioning. Combine that with the smaller pitching staffs, and you’re asking something different from athletes.

I think it could end up being good for the game. The starting pitcher has been a casualty of the max effort era, but the smaller the staff and the faster the pace… the more endurance will be valued. We’ll see.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
10 months ago
Reply to  mariodegenzgz

How are the pitching staffs smaller? You mean compared to pandemic years?

Psychic... Powerless...
10 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

I believe last season a rule was put in place limiting teams to 13 pitchers.