The MLB Pitch Clock - What it Means and The Impact It's Having (Updated)

For the 2023 season, Major League Baseball implemented a series of new rules, none more impactful than instituting a 20-second pitch clock. This has been working its way through the Minor Leagues since 2015 so it was good timing to bring it up to the Show.

For the uninitiated, the pitch clock is a timer used to limit the time between pitches to 20 seconds if no one is on base and 15 seconds if there is a player on base. The pitch clock is intended to speed up the pace of play and reduce the length of games, which has been a concern for the league as well as fans and officials.

Advocates of the pitch clock argue that it can make the game more exciting and engaging for fans, as well as improve the overall flow of the game. They also argue that it can help to prevent pitchers and batters from taking too much time between pitches, which can slow down and disrupt the rhythm of the game. 

Opponents of the pitch clock argue that it can disrupt the natural pace of the game and place additional pressure on pitchers and batters. They also argue that it may not be effective in reducing the overall length of games, as other factors, such as commercial breaks and manager visits to the mound, can also contribute to delays.

Six weeks into the 2023 season, the pitch clock is gaining more and more traction at batting cages around the league. There's no denying that the pitch clock has improved the pace of play, as games are now averaging 30 minutes less than in previous years. Other rule changes like larger bases and eliminating the infield shift have also had an impact and have made the game more exciting.

There are also errors in execution, like what happened to Cody Bellinger in April. But these are becoming few and far between. Growing pains are normal but it’s difficult to argue that, at least so far, the new rules have been positive in terms of improving the pace of play, excitement and even drawing in a younger demographic.  

In terms of sports betting, the debate is especially heated as more and more states continue to legalize sports betting thus allowing more fans to bet on more games. In addition, the concept of micro-betting - betting on every play in a game - continues to gain momentum and will drive handle for sportsbooks.

As summarized by Mark Saxon in Sports Handle:

“In-game wagering is an opportunity baseball can’t afford to mess up. With multi-billion-dollar deals with regional sports networks drying up, owners are increasingly frantic to find growth opportunities that allow them to project healthy future revenue to other investors and potential investors. One company, UK-based Genius Sports, has projected that, by 2031, in-play betting will yield over 80% of the NFL betting handle. Presumably, that number could be higher for baseball.”

Which is only bolstered by Randy Levine’s comment:

“It’s quintessential fan engagement,” New York Yankees President Randy Levine said. “I think baseball lends itself really unlike any other sport to mobile sports betting. You can bet on what’s the next pitch: Is it a fastball? A curveball? How fast is it going to be? Is it going to be inside? Outside? Will the batter hit a single, a home run, or strike out? Will it go to right field? Left field? There are endless possibilities for somebody to be engaged.”

Mark Saxon wrote about this in Sports Handle back in March. Ryan Keur, the vice president for trading and revenue at Simplebet, Keur said last year “around 80% of pitch-by-pitch bets came within 10 seconds of the lines being set by the computer. Another 10% came in during the following five seconds. The remaining 10%, which would be null and void in this upcoming season, were placed after the 15-second mark.”

He went on to say “When you sit and think about it, 15 seconds to get a bet in, is pretty fast … It really requires this level of perfection and detail at every moment of what we call the market life cycle. Between creation, suspension, and then settlement, which is happening every 15 seconds across 2,500 baseball games across the entire course of the season, there’s a lot to get done in a short amount of time.”

Of course, the entire purpose of the pitch clock is to speed up the game and generate more excitement.  This will also drive in-play handle for the entire industry as excitement builds and fans place more bets, faster.

According to Nielsen Fan Insights, just over ½ of all MLB fans are also bettors, with 74% of MLB fans indicating they would be interested in betting if it were legal in their jurisdiction.  

With all of the talk about a pitch clock and micro-betting, one important element must also be addressed: video streaming technology. MLB and its sportsbook partners will not see the growth in revenue they expect if fans cannot Watch and Bet in real-time.

Sportsbooks must leverage technology that eliminates video latency - the delay between something happening on the field of play and when it shows up on a user’s device - so the data they receive from data providers like Sportradar is in sync with the video they receive. This is where Phenix comes in. We’re able to deliver streams with less than ½ second of latency at broadcast quality and scale and synchronize video playback across all devices so everyone sees each pitch at the same time, every time, and is perfectly synchronized with the data.

Can you imagine betting on the very next pitch using today's streaming technology? Not a chance. Phenix real-time streaming will make that a reality.