The shot clock may be bothering players as they approach the plate, but they like it a lot more once they put on their gloves and take the field.
While the rule changes implemented this year to speed up the pace of play have garnered a lot of attention for how they have affected hitters and pitchers, some players and managers say the new guidelines have a positive impact on defense as well. .
The shot clock in particular, an idea meant to make it easier for fans to stay focused on the field, can also keep fielders on lockdown.
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«I think it’s helping a lot defensively, just because you don’t have the downtime to really walk,» said Seattle Mariners second baseman Kolten Wong, a two-time Gold Glove winner. «You’re not cleaning up dirt, you’re constantly back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. So, I’m a big fan of that.»
The shot clock adopted this year, along with limits on infield turns and various other rules, gives pitchers 15 seconds between deliveries if there are no runners and 20 seconds with someone aboard.
There is no doubt that games are faster. The average game length of 2 hours and 40 minutes is the shortest since 1984. Games lasted an average of at least 3 hours each year from 2012-22.
That change was expected. But some players and coaches say they’ve been pleasantly surprised at how things have changed on defense.
Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell, who was asked this season about improving left fielder Christian Yelich’s glove work, landed on the clock as a key contributor. After ranking in the bottom 10 left fielders last year with fewer than 5 outs above average, Yelich ranks third this season with 3 OAAs, according to Baseball Savant.
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«It’s definitely not something I had thought about, but I think it’s easier to play defense now because of the way the game is structured because it’s faster paced,» Counsell said. «That’s the best thing for defensemen. I don’t think hitters like it yet, to be honest with you. And pitchers don’t like it. But I think it’s great for defensemen.»
Counsell said the long delays between pitches in previous seasons could make it difficult for fielders to maintain their concentration.
«It’s still your job, but (the slow pace) was making it very difficult, I think especially for the outfielders,» Counsell said.
Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker indicated that it was also a problem for the infielders.
«When you’ve been standing there for 15-20 minutes and you get hit with a ground ball, I know it’s been a challenge in the past, in long innings, to stay locked up,» Walker said.
It is difficult to find empirical evidence to support or dispute the theory. The league-wide fielding percentage of .986 through Tuesday’s games is the highest in sports history, but that may not be the best indicator. Fielding percentages have increased steadily for decades thanks in part to better field conditions and equipment, and last year’s fielding percentage was .985. The metric is also based on subjective decisions by official scorers and does not take into account a player’s rank.
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It’s also difficult to extract trends from advanced defensive metrics due to the limits placed on infield changes between the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
That leaves it up to the notoriously unreliable eye test to determine if there’s a difference.
«I don’t think I necessarily realized that,» New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. «My gut, or hearing you ask that question and knowing myself as a fielder, I think that’s a good thing. You know, being able to keep it moving. I know we always liked a pitcher who worked fast, right? It felt like you were more alert, more alert. So I think there’s something to that, but it’s not necessarily something that’s taken away from me so far.»
Boone’s opinion is something of a consensus.
When The Associated Press asked players and coaches if they thought the shot clock had affected the field, they often said they hadn’t really considered that possibility. Then, after some thought, many of them agreed, at least partially, with Counsell’s opinion.
«There’s more action,» Mariners manager Scott Servais said. «They are not in such a hurry, they are ready for the ball to be put into play, things happen faster, less stopped.»
Brewers infielder Owen Miller has noticed as well.
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«I think the flow of the game is much better,» Miller said. «You just have less time between pitches, so especially the infielders are a little bit lighter and quicker.»
Players and managers across the league see evidence of better fielding. Whether that is due to the shot clock or other factors is still up for debate.
«I think the commitment part helps,» Diamondbacks outfielder Alek Thomas said. «You’re paying attention, not looking at the crowd. On the other hand, maybe it’s more of an athletic crowd that’s making good plays.»