How are batters circumventing the pitch clock?
In a memo leaked to the press, MLB warns umpires to crack down on batters who are trying to circumvent the pitch clock rule by using deception.
Willson Contreras knew what he was doing. In Saturday’s St Louis Cardinals 4-3 win over the Boston Red Sox, Contreras managed to use guile and cunning to squeeze a walk out of Kenley Jansen.
With the Cards down 3-1 in the ninth, Paul Goldschmidt was on second and Contreras was at the plate, down 0-1 in the count. He got into his hitting position with more than eight seconds on the pitch clock, standing with one foot in and one out of the batter’s box before raising his bat and addressing the pitcher. Jansen, seeing this, assumed that he was ready and went into his set position. The umpire called a pitch clock violation on Jansen and awarded a ball.
This entire scenario happened again with the count 3-1 and Contreras was awarded first base. The Cardinals rallied in the ninth, scoring three runs to get the win, all sparked by that first walk.
“That’s what the pitch clock allows you to do,” said Contreras after the game. “I know some closers like to get their rhythm, but my job as a batter is to not give them that rhythm. So I was letting the clock come all the way down to eight. It’s not my fault, and it’s something that I use for me. Whether it’s in my favor or not my favor, it’s for the team. It worked out today.”
Now MLB senior vice president Michael Hill has clarified that Contreras’ routine is not guile or cunning, but circumvention. And more to the point, it is not to be allowed anymore.
Hill’s memo, leaked to the press, says in part, “In recent days, we have seen batters attempt to induce pitchers to violate the pitch timer regulations by creating the appearance that they are in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with more than eight seconds remaining on the clock when, in actuality, they have not fully entered the batter’s box.
“The batter’s purpose with such an approach is to deceive the pitcher into beginning his windup or coming set before the batter is fully in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher. We have advised umpires that conduct by batters designed to deceive a pitcher into beginning their windup or coming to the set position early, including pretending to be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher, constitutes circumvention under the pace of game regulations.
“Pitchers must continue to be aware of the position of the batter, and identify when the batter is appropriately in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher before the pitcher begins the windup or comes set. However, if the umpire determines that a batter appears alert to the pitcher and prepared to hit a pitch with more than eight seconds remaining on the timer, but is deliberately keeping one or both feet outside of the batter’s box, the umpire will not call a violation on the pitcher, but rather will issue a warning to the batter for his deceptive behavior.”
This is the eighth memo from Hill since the beginning of the season attempting to clarify use of the contentious pitch clock. At least one player is happy to hear that the MLB is taking action on this issue, with Kenley Jansen saying, “It’s great that MLB is just policing that. I’m seeing the hitter with his bat on his shoulder looking at me, so I thought he was ready.
“If they’re going to play tricks with one foot in and one foot out, it’s hard to dictate. It’s great to see that they clarified that and make the rule a little better so it doesn’t have to cost another pitcher out there in high-leverage situations games like it cost me. It irritates me a little bit and next thing you know, you don’t have room for error and you’ve got two guys on base, the tying run at first. That’s what happened.”
Willson Contreras isn’t too bothered about it either, for that matter, suggesting that the new ruling have a new name. “Call it the Willson rule. It’s a good call. When I do it, it’s like I’m saying I’m ready, but I’m really not.
“It’s a huge change from the pitcher’s view. It’s not about me, it’s about MLB.” True, indeed Willson, it is in the end all about the MLB.