Fidgeting with batting gloves between pitches. Scrawling in the dirt with the tip of a baseball bat. Pacing – and maybe meditating – around the batter’s box.
Major League Baseball hitters used to have all the time in the world for such rituals before feeling ready and confident to face pitchers.
But the league’s new pitch clock rules, introduced this year to accelerate a game that can bleed into three hours, will result in another unintended casualty: quirky batter routines.
“It’s called a pitch timer, and because of that, I think when they announced it, most people thought about how it affects the pitcher,” MLB.com national reporter Anthony Castrovince told CNN.
As spring training got underway, the new rule appeared to be achieving its goal of speeding up games. But baseball experts also began to realize that the burden of the clock might be more of an adjustment for the batters than the pitchers.
“The batters having not as much time as they were used to was one of those things that snuck up on everybody involved because we focused so much on the pitchers,” Neil Paine, acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight, told CNN. “We didn’t really spend as much time thinking about the batters, and as it turns out, the batters have had to make as much of an adjustment as the pitchers it seems like.”
The new pitch clock rules state that a pitcher gets 15 seconds to begin the motion to throw the ball with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on base. If he can’t do this in time, he is charged with a ball. The hitter, however, must also be ready to go in the batter’s box. He must be facing and looking at the pitcher with eight seconds left on the clock. If not, he gets charged with a strike. The consequences were on full display early in spring training.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning and the bases were loaded with a full count and a tie score.
Cal Conley of the Atlanta Braves had a shot at getting a win for his team against the Boston Red Sox. With the pitch clock winding down, the umpire called a time violation and Conley made his way to first base, apparently assuming that the pitcher was in violation of the new rule.
Only the call was against Conley – he wasn’t ready in the batter’s box with eight seconds left on the pitch clock. The umpire called a strike, and the game ended.
Much of the slow build to the pitch, for both the batter and pitcher, can be attributed to game strategy – any attempt to interrupt the flow of the opposing team. But with the new pitch rules, the mind games will need to be sped up.
“It’s gonna be a faster chess match. I’ve heard some blow back from fans about that. They’re going to miss the pitcher staring down the hitter and vice versa,” Castrovince said.
And for many hitters, this means they will have to adjust their superstitions and routines as they enter the batter’s box, with an eye on the new clock.
“Putting in that pitch clock and the rules around it has been single handedly responsible for shaving off 25 minutes of kind of dead time off a baseball game,” Paine said. “I think that’s probably still a positive in the net sense, but at the same time you do lose a little bit of that other stuff.”
CNN identified four current and former players with such quirky routines and attempted to recreate their at-bat movements to see whether they would violate the new clock. Each reenactment shows a scenario with the bases empty, allowing 15 seconds in total. The batter should be ready with eight seconds to go.
CNN employees volunteered to imitate the moves to their best ability. Here’s what we found:
Garciaparra is so well-known for obsessively adjusting his batting gloves that MLB put together a compilation of his pre-bat routines featuring this iconic move.
The video below shows an instance where the retired Boston Red Sox player adjusts his gloves on both hands several times, double taps his left and then right toes on the dirt and gives his bat a few casual swings before centering himself to the pitcher.
Castrovince believes this is something that shouldn’t be too hard to scale back.
“Hopefully most players realize it’s actually not necessary to adjust your batting gloves when you didn’t even swing at the last pitch and nothing has changed,” he joked.
In this instance, Garciaparra spent roughly 10 seconds getting ready for the pitch – 2 seconds too long for the new rules. He would have gotten a strike.
During a June 13, 2014 game, Sandoval, then a San Francisco Giants player, displayed several moves before situating himself in the batter’s box. There was the tapping of the top of the bat to his toes, scribbling in the dirt, adjusting his gloves and swiping his shoulder, among other displays of dillydallying.
“There’s less room for individuality in terms of your little routines that you go through and the motions, but it probably is worth it in terms of the speeding up effect,” Paine said.
In this instance, Sandoval spent more than 16 seconds getting ready for the pitch – at least 6 seconds too long for the new rules. He would have gotten a strike.
Turner, an MLB all-star who previously played for the Washington Nationals, has demonstrated taking his time getting ready for a hit. In an October 2019 game against the Houston Astros, Turner takes some leisurely swings, taps the top of his bat over home plate and rocks a few times before signaling he’s ready for the pitch.
In this instance, Turner spent roughly 14 seconds getting ready for the pitch – 6 seconds too long for the new rules. He would have gotten a strike.
Martinez was also granted the mash-up video treatment given all his pre-pitch rituals at the plate.
In one particularly long-winded routine, Martinez, a former Boston Red Sox player, taps the bat to his heels and then puffs his chest up to the sky with his arms by his sides before inching up to the plate and swaying into his stance.
In this instance, Martinez spent more than 16 seconds getting ready for the pitch – at least 6 seconds too long for the new rules. He would have gotten a strike.
The primary goal of the new pitch clock rules is to speed up the game, and it appears to be working: The average spring training game was 2 hours and 36 minutes, compared to 3 hours and 1 minute last spring, according to The Athletic.
It may also prove to be more entertaining for viewers looking for more action. Bovada, a sports betting company, introduced prop bets for pitch clock violations during spring training.
Bovada’s Head Oddsmaker, Pat Morrow, told CNN this became part of the site because of how topical the pitch clock violation is.
“It’s not just having the usual stuff that people have been able to wager… it’s the conversation starter questions around those sports: what’s happening in those sports that keep them relevant, even when the first pitch of the season hasn’t started yet,” Morrow said.
Morrow anticipates more engagement on the site during live games this season. But whether the rules generate new fans who might be more drawn to watching a shorter sporting event is the big question.
“While it’s great for baseball that they’ve shaved that 25 minutes off, it’s like the difference between a Christopher Nolan movie and a regular movie,” Paine said.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of sports betting company Bovada.
Videos by Jeremy Moorhead. Animations by Taylor Su. Nomar Garciaparra and Trea Turner’s routine by CNN’s Ben Krolowitz, Pablo Sandoval’s routine by CNN’s Katherine Lobosco and J.D. Martinez’s routine by CNN’s Kyle Feldscher.