Red Sox rookie points out key flaw in new MLB rule

Sep 14, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Zack Kelly (76) pitches during the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 14, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Zack Kelly (76) pitches during the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /
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Red Sox rookie Zack Kelly has doubts about the new MLB pitch timer

Before Zack Kelly made his major-league debut with the Boston Red Sox at the end of August, he got a preview of the pitch timer set to take effect in 2023.

Starting next season, MLB will implement a pitch timer, restrict defensive shifts, and upgrade to larger bases. The rules are supposed to make the game faster and more exciting, but many people around the league have doubts the changes will accomplish either goal.

Unlike most of his new teammates on the big-league roster, Kelly spent most of the season in the minors, where MLB tested out the pitch clock before voting on its implementation. Since he’d already worked under the duress of a time limit, he’s uniquely qualified to speak on the significant change coming to the league next year, and did just that in a conversation with Rob Bradford of WEEI. The rookie went into detail about how much of an impact the pitch timer made, not just on the length of the game, but on his thought process when he stood on the mound:

"“In the minor leagues, I feel like yeah, it’s knocked off 20 minutes or whatever. I didn’t really notice it until I got (to the majors). Everything here is just faster, more important later in the game, the game slows down. It doesn’t really do that in the minor leagues. The 7th, 8th, and 9th innings in the big leagues is so much slower than the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings in the minor leagues.It’s just so annoying ‘cause you’re sitting there thinking about executing a pitch, God forbid there’s runners on, and you’re sitting there trying to hold a runner. You see a clock out of the corner of your eye, like ‘Aw, I gotta come set. I gotta pitch.’ It’s kind of getting away from the integrity of the game, I think, whenever you got to start worrying about a clock.”"

Even though Kelly had more experience with the timer than his veteran teammates, the new rules could make it more difficult for him to succeed in the majors. Baseball Savant clocks the 27-year-old righty as one of the staff’s slower pitchers when the bases are empty; his 19.0 tempo (13.0 timer equivalent) is 14th on the roster among pitchers with a minimum of 50 pitches this year. However, he works fast with runners on, with the fifth-best tempo. Fellow rookie Brayan Bello is the opposite; he’s the fourth-fastest pitcher when the bases are empty, but only Connor Seabold and Matt Barnes work slower with runners on.

Kelly also took specific aim at the “absurd” pickoff rules and even admitted that he never thought the new rules would actually make it out of the minors:

"“As far as the clock goes, I think it’s going to be tough. The pickoff rules are absurd. Just because what I’ve noticed is there’s so much value in holding the ball when you come set to disrupt the runner’s timing. They’re all going off timing. There’s so much value in being able to hold the baseball for six, seven seconds. You can’t really do that anymore. The only thing you can do is pick. You can’t step off, that counts as a disengagement,” he said. “So it’s like what are you going to do if you have Billy Hamilton or Terrance Gore come in in the postseason and just two, three pitches go first to third? You can’t sit there and waste these disengagements. I really didn’t think they were going to get to the big leagues but I guess they are.”"

Kelly also aptly pointed out that the rule changes, intended to speed up the game, likely won’t entice people who weren’t already fans. Shortening games by twenty minutes isn’t going to make a difference to someone who didn’t care about baseball before, so like many people, he feels that the league is not focusing on the needs of the right people, as the pitch timer impacts the players more than people who aren’t even fans:

"“I think there’s really no issue with the game. It’s not like everybody’s going to like every sport. There’s some people that just don’t watch football games. That’s fine. There’s people that don’t watch baseball games and that’s fine. They’re trying to cater to a market that’s not the majority of viewership, revenue, so I have mixed feelings about it.”"

Kelly is far from the first player – Red Sox or otherwise – to publicly take issue with the rule changes. Fellow Sox reliever Matt Strahm not only voiced his concerns, he also called out commissioner Rob Manfred, too, for not taking players’ opinions into account before pushing the rules through.

It’s insulting to see longtime loyal fans’ needs ignored over and over as MLB attempts to captivate new fans, but what’s infinitely worse is the league continuing to make changes that seriously impact players’ ability to do their jobs. It won’t improve the already-tenuous relationship between players and the league, and probably won’t captivate new fans, either.

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