There are some things Americans know they can count on: The price of a four-year university education will rise, the size of computer chips will decrease and the average length of a baseball game will just keep getting longer.
Forty years ago, the average Major League Baseball game took two hours and 29 minutes to complete. Since then, the average game length has steadily risen, breaking the three-hour mark in 2012, according to Baseball Prospectus. And it hasn't stopped there: This season, the average has nearly reached 3:08, an all-time high. That's longer than the average length of a Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings film (3:06). While others factors are surely also to blame for baseball's declining TV ratings, never-ending games aren't helping the cause either.
After years of complaints by baseball fans, writers and even umpires, it looks like the MLB office is ready to do something about it. Having studied the issue, the league's "Pace of Game Committee" revealed six recommendations that it hopes will help speed up each game.
1. There will be a countdown clock used to ensure that pitchers don't spend more than 20 seconds between each pitch.
2. With some exceptions, a batter must keep one foot inside the batter's box at all times.
3. Pitchers will no longer have to throw four balls to intentionally walk a batter. A signal from the pitcher's manager to the umpire will suffice.
4. Breaks between innings will be capped at two minutes and five seconds, with batters having to be in the batter's box at the 1:45 mark. The umpire can award an automatic strike if the hitter isn't ready or award an automatic ball if the pitcher is taking too long.
5. Pitching changes can't take longer than two minutes and 30 seconds.
6. Each team will be allowed only three visits to the mound per game (excluding pitching changes or injury evaluations).
All six of those changes will be used in the upcoming Arizona Fall League season before being evaluated for any possible future implementation in actual MLB games.
Of those recommendations, it seems the first one, the 20-second countdown pitch clock, would have the most notable effect. According to FanGraphs, hurlers have taken an average of 23 seconds between each pitch this season. That's up from 22.6 seconds last year, 22.1 seconds in 2012 and 21.6 seconds in 2011.
Can you picture thousands of fans counting down the final seconds during the ninth inning of a tense game, as if the fans were watching a basketball game and warning the shooter of the waning shot clock? And would umpires have the courage to negate a would-be strikeout because the pitch was thrown a split-second too late?
Of course, this proposed 20-second rule would be replacing Official Rule 8.04, which says that pitchers have just 12 seconds to throw the ball when no one is on base. "Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call 'Ball,'" the rulebook reads. Not that the umpires often follow that one.