As the Baltimore Orioles gear up for the final month of a surprising playoff push, changes are coming to baseball. MLB announced on Friday the implementation of sweeping rule changes. MLB’s competition committee passed rule changes including the implementation of a pitch clock, ban on shifts, and larger bases. The changes will take effect in the 2023 season.
The voting process was not a unanimous one. MLB’s competition committee includes six team owners or executives, four MLB players, and umpire Bill Miller. While Miller and the executives voted to implement the pitch clock and shift bans, all four MLB players voted against both of those changes. The vote to institute larger bases was a unanimous yes vote.
We’ll start off with the pitch clock. It has been tested in the minor leagues for several years, and it has had a drastic effect this year, as it has been strictly enforced. It trimmed average game times in the minor leagues down to two hours and 30 minutes. Here’s how it works.
The catcher must be squatted down and in position to receive the pitch with 10 seconds left on the pitch clock. The batter must have both feet inside the batters box and be ready to swing with 8 seconds left. The pitcher must begin the throwing motion before the clock expires. Any violation by the pitcher gives an automatic ball to the batter, and any violation by the batter gives an automatic strike to the pitcher.
Major League Baseball has issued rule changes effective 2023, including a pitch clock
Additionally, the pitch clock will be set to 15 seconds with no runners on base, and 20 seconds with at least one runner on base. Pickoffs and pitchers stepping off the mound resets the pitch clock, and there will be a limit of two per at bat, with the number put back to two if a runner advances. A pitcher is allowed a third pickoff attempt, but if the runner gets back safely, it will be called a balk and the runner, or runners, will advance one base.
We’ll move on now to the shift. Shifts came into baseball as a strategy to stop hitters from getting on base by playing more fielders where a hitter tends to hit the ball most often. It started out as a valuable tool for managers, but it has since become overused as analytics become more prevalent in the current era of baseball. More often than not, you’ll see a team infield shifted, and MLB has now implemented a ban to the shift.
All four infielders will need to have both feet on the dirt when the pitch is thrown, which ends the four outfielder setup which has become used more frequently. Additionally, two infielders will need to be on both sides of second base at all times, so there won’t be more than two infielders in between first and second base, or second and third base. Before the game, teams have to designate which infielders will be playing on the left side, and which infielders will be playing on the right side. Those infielders cannot switch sides of the infield unless a defensive substitution is made.
Another interesting wrinkle is the ability of challenging. The positioning of defensive players is now a reviewable play. If a team’s defensive format is deemed illegal after review, the hitting team can choose to either take an automatic ball to the hitter, thus continuing the at bat, or they can choose to accept the outcome of the play, which they might do if their hitter hits, say, a double.
Finally, we’ll move on to the larger bases. Come the 2023 season, the bases will expand from 15 square inches to 18 square inches. The expectation with the move is that the bigger area of the base will help to cut down on collisions at the base, and it shortens the distance between bases, which would make it easier for runners to steal bases.
Basically, to summarize, these rule changes are massive, and have major implications to the on field product. Stolen base rates will likely increase leaguewide, career pull hitters will likely see an uptick in hits, causing an uptick in most individual stats. Pitch clocks are set to drastically drop the average game length, with minor league games at a 2:30 average. We’ll see soon how much this actually does affect the game.