How will Mark Canha adjust to pitch clock?
The most polarizing and consequential rule change of the 2023 MLB season is the implementation of the pitch clock. Front offices full of MIT graduates posing as baseball lifers will alter their formulas to adjust for the banning of the shift. And larger bases, which promote more action and safety, are likely something we can all agree on. The pitch clock, however, is more controversial.
The pitch clock stipulations are simple. Pitchers must begin their motion before the set time expires (15 seconds with bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on base). Batters must be in the box and “expecting a pitch" with no later than eight seconds remaining on the clock.
With bases empty in 2022, New York Mets hitters (19.04 sec) took almost one second more than the Major League average (18.14 sec) between pitches. While being less than a second above league average doesn’t seem like a big deal on the surface, Mets hitters will undoubtedly be forced to drastically modify their routines in order to comply this season. And they must shave at least four seconds off that average time between pitches.
The one Mets player to keep a close eye on here is Mark Canha. The past two seasons, with the bases empty, no player (with at least 1,000 pitches) has taken more time between pitches than Canha. Sitting atop the heap at 22.1 seconds, Canha is nearly four seconds above the MLB average of 18.25. Some of the names that follow the Mets outfielder on this infamous list include Kyle Tucker (21.6 seconds), Trevor Story (21.6 seconds), Pete Alonso (21.2 seconds), J.D. Martinez (20.9 seconds), Bryce Harper (20.8 seconds), and Juan Soto (20.7 seconds).
When you think of Mark Canha, what do you see? A bulldog in the box? A nuisance to opposing pitchers? A grinder in every sense of the word? Guessing games aside, Canha, despite lacking the physical gifts that some of his major league counterparts possess, shows up on a very similar list to those same, highly regarded players.
Although Canha doesn’t possess the same high-end offensive stats as those peers, he's been able to parlay this approach into a unique way of reaching base. Along with pacing Major League Baseball in what Baseball Savant terms, “Pitch Tempo," the 34-year-old has also led MLB in hit-by-pitches over that same time. In part, that's helped him have an OBP of .358 or better each of the past four seasons. Perhaps there's a correlation between these statistics and his deliberate approach to each at-bat. Clearly Canha has found an edge; and in a league where the margins are so very small, no potential advantage should be discarded.
Canha, a two-time reigning HBP and Pitch Tempo “champion," has undergone an offseason of adjustments in order to comply with the pitch clock. His comments regarding a dedication to hitting for more power can be seen as a response to the new rules which will surely limit Canha’s antics between pitches.
The rhetoric that is repeated on a daily basis by many baseball pundits is that the athleticism and parity of the game have been replaced by math and methodology. The conservation of bullpens and reluctance to steal bags were some of the issues at the forefront of the commissioner and his office when these rule changes were initiated.
In theory, there should be little resistance to this new reality. Baseball is far more entertaining when the players on the field are more responsible for determining the outcomes than data scientists in a sky box. While the athleticism will be showcased more frequently, with that comes the reduction of the mental side of the sport.
Sure, for the casual baseball fan, watching Canha step out of the box and go through his drawn-out routine could be unappealing. But there is also something beautiful about it as well. The cerebral Canha is aware of his strengths and weaknesses as an MLB player and has been able to find his own way at the professional level. Mind games between pitchers and hitters have been omnipresent throughout baseball’s history. But with the new law of the land, approaches like Canhas' will soon become that of the past.
Photo: Mark Rosenman