Rule 8.04 from Major League Baseball's official rules:
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 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.
The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.
Baseball wants to speed up the game. The games last too long, say the critics. Too slow. Too boring for our fast-paced culture. Everyone loves to criticize baseball.
So now the sport will experiment with a pitch clock at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2015, with details on how much time will be allowed between pitches and how it will be implemented to come.
Now, you can argue that a pitch clock isn't needed when there's already an existing rule addressing the issue of keeping the game moving along at a brisk and entertaining pace. All MLB has to do is to tell umpires to enforce the 12-second rule. Of course, it's not so easy to tell umpires to enforce the rule when they've ignored it forever. Rule 8.04 also doesn't factor in batters stepping out of the box and taking their own sweet time to get ready. Plus, you can imagine the uproar the first time an umpire calls "ball four" on a 3-2 count in a key situation with the game on the line because a pitcher took a half-second too long to deliver the pitch.
Now, there's nothing wrong with trying to get pitchers to work faster. NFL teams run plays quicker than it takes Clay Buchholz to deliver a pitch. Heck, I just watched the University of Oregon run a play every 12 seconds or so. And relievers are worse than starters. Since they are generally maximum-velocity guys on every pitch, they also take longer between pitches. (Among pitchers who threw at least 50 innings, the slowest 33 workers according to FanGraphs' "Pace" calculation were relievers).
Now, maybe 12 seconds isn't enough time; even Mark Buehrle averaged 17.3 seconds between pitches, according to FanGraphs' "Pace" calculation. But too many guys are taking 25 seconds and longer between pitches:
David Price: 26.6
Jorge De La Rosa: 26.0
Yusmeiro Petit: 26.0
Clay Buchholz: 25.6
Tyler Skaggs: 25.4
Edinson Volquez: 25.3
Chris Archer: 25.2
Hiroki Kuroda: 25.2
Masahiro Tanaka: 25.1
Yu Darvish: 25.1
Joel Peralta: 32.1
Junichi Tazawa: 31.8
Tony Sipp: 30.3
Joaquin Benoit: 30.3
Phil Coke: 29.7
Joe Nathan: 29.7
Jonathan Broxton: 29.0
Yoervis Medina: 28.8
Juan Gutierrez: 28.7
Santiago Casilla: 28.5
There's a ripple effect of enforcing the 12-second rule or a pitch clock: Maybe it will help batters a little and bring some offense back into the game (of course, more offense will just make games longer) if pitchers are forced to work faster. I'd like to see how dominant some of these relievers would be if they're not allowed to take so long to regroup.
We'll see how the experiment goes. This will be much easier to enforce on minor league pitchers than it would be on David Price or Yu Darvish. But it's a start and trying to shorten the length of games is coming from a good place.
Now, about those batters stepping out of the box ... and those long commercial breaks between innings ... and all the pitching changes ...