On September 9, 2022, Major League Baseball did something that might change the course of baseball history for quite a long time.
As you can see here, the League will introduce three significant rule changes which will take effect as the 2023 season commences, which as of writing, is just two months away.
You might have learned about it already, but it’s time for you to be reintroduced with these new rules that can refresh the game we all love to see and more action.
It’s all about the pace of play.
All baseball communities have discussed this at least once – the sport’s pace of play, particularly the length of time the game is played. Why are we so hellbent on this idea?
It is not an unknown truth that baseball’s game length is notoriously long. Sitting for 3 hours for a ballgame that ends 1-0 seems already an atrocious idea, let alone sitting for 3 hours only to witness actual play that lasts a grand total of… 18 minutes. It’s more troubling for international fans willing to trade early morning sleeps to watch games that sometimes take an eternity to be settled (personal experience, actually).
MLB execs have long been vocal about the idea of reducing game times to encourage younger generations to watch the games. And this season, MLB is set to take three huge steps towards making the games decently watchable again.
Larger bases for safety, more action on the basepaths
Probably the last icon that championed base-stealing and made it an entertaining aspect of the game was (crickets) Rickey Henderson. Today’s game has become more strategic due to decreased offensive percentages that teams aren’t willing to risk losing baserunners by getting picked off. And, besides, we got home runs, baby.
But MLB hopes to turn the narrative around by enlarging the bases.
From the conventional 15-inch square, bases will not be sized at 18-inch squares, essentially reducing the distance of bases between each other. Game announcers and writers can no longer use the common reporting phrase’ 90 feet away because of this.
But aside from the broadcasting adjustment and probable boost for a player to snitch bags again, the rule change is particularly aimed at player safety. Collisions at bases, especially at first, are often due to a lack of space for either the 1st baseman to operate or the baserunner to set foot. They will now be rewarded with extra 3 inches to work with, keeping them safe from possible hard crashes that often cost service time. Also, larger bases can help players reduce oversliding at bases.
Pitch clocks for controlled game time
It might have ruffled the feathers of some baseball purists who believe that baseball must not in any way on form be dictated by a clock. But one significant change to how the sport is played is the addition of a pitch clock to all Major League games.
Per League’s statement, there will be a 15-second timer between pitches when bases are empty and an additional 5 seconds (20 secs. in total) if there are runners on base (sorry, Giovanny Gallegos). There will also be a 30-second timer between batters. Penalties will be charged like these – an additional ball for a pitcher who fails to throw a pitch inside his given time and an automatic strike for a batter who won’t make it to the plate within the 30-second time frame.
This is an offshoot to the experiment done in the Minors, which saw the game times reduced from 3 hours, 5 minutes to 2 hours, 38 minutes – a 25-minute improvement.
And due to this rule change, an additional tweak to the game also arose – a breakthrough rule will not allow pitchers to pick off runners as often as they want. Sure, you have grown sick and tired of this one pitcher picking off a runner at first about 15 times before even throwing the first pitch to the current batter. Instead, the pitchers will only be given two ‘disengagements’ (defined as pickoff attempts or stepoffs). If the pickoff attempt fails a third time, that runner will advance one base.
The (expletive) shift is gone!
That could be the exact words Joey Gallo is shouting upon hearing the news.
But jokes aside, defensive shifts are indeed beneficial to prevent batters from getting hits. Fielders can position themselves according to who is batting; oftentimes, the setup is egregious. Perhaps, you have seen versions of it – a four-man shift to the right field when a lefty is up to bat, and even corner infielders extending themselves all the way to the outfield just to prevent batters from knocking a hit. They all work wonders for teams employing it, except it ‘hinders’ the game’s very nature – the action its viewers crave.
Baseball is a sport – and is also a marketable business, and making it watchable involves steps like this. With batting averages on balls in play (BABIP) falling six points (.291) from its totals ten years ago, paired with ballooning strikeout rates plus declining batting averages league-wide, the game was indeed an eyesore to follow for some; thus, the rule change of eliminating defensive shifts.
“The defensive team must have a minimum of four players on the infield, with at least two infielders completely on either side of second base.” Those are the exact descriptions of how the defense will align on their fielding turn. Failure to do so will incur an automatic ball on their turn to bat.
Its pain points will surely come from shift-friendly hurlers negatively affected by the rule change while shift-disliked batters see their offensive numbers go up. But it’s the means to the end – to add entertainment to a game seen otherwise. More hits, fewer outs.
For sure, complications and even controversies might arise from enforcing these new rule adjustments, but that’s part of the growing pains for the objective of making the game worth watching again, encouraging elements that add action to the sport, and, more importantly, reducing the time for non-actions in baseball and cutting off insignificant amount of time to absorb and learn baseball overall.
What do you think of these new rule changes by MLB? Let us know in the comments below!
Sources: MLB.com, Los Angeles Times, Baseball Reference, T-Bones Baseball.