Major League Baseball has 30 teams as of 2022, with 15 in the National League and 15 in the American League, with 29 in the United States and 1 in Canada. Now, a new, significant set of rules is set to shake things up.
According to ESPN, Major League Baseball approved significant rule changes in the hopes of fundamentally changing the game. They voted on Friday to implement a pitch clock and ban defensive shifts in 2023 in order to speed up the game and increase action. The competition committee of the league is made up of six ownership-level representatives, four players, and one umpire.
The powers-that-be agreed on a pitch clock of 15 seconds with empty bases and 20 seconds with runners on, a defensive alignment of two fielders on each side of the second-base bag with both feet on the dirt, and rules limiting pick-off moves and expanding base sizes. The vote was not unanimous. The pitch clock and shift portions of the changes were voted down by player representatives. Long tested in the minor leagues, the pitch clock has significantly accelerated the pace of games when strictly enforced.
This season, minor league games have consistently clocked in under 2 hours, 30 minutes a pace considered ideal by many while average game times have settled slightly above it. The rule is strict: the catcher must be ready when the timer hits 10 seconds. At the 8-second mark, the hitter must have both feet in the batter’s box and be “alert,” and the pitcher must start his “motion to pitch” before the clock runs out. A pitching violation will result in an automatic ball. A strike by the hitter still constitutes an automatic strike.
The banning of defensive shifts, originally a fringe strategy that has become the torment of left-handed hitters, is one of the more extreme versions, preventing defensive player movement in multiple directions. With all four infielders needing to be on the dirt, the four-outfielder setup will be over. More importantly, shifting an infielder to play short right field or simply over-shifting three infielders to the right side of the second-base bag is no longer legal.
The defensive players’ positions can be reviewed, and if a defense is found illegal, the batting team can choose to accept the outcome or take an automatic ball instead. By limiting mound disengagements, either via pickoff move or step-off, the rules hold pitchers accountable who would otherwise have a pitch-clock workaround and are anticipated to significantly increase stolen bases, which is part of the action the league sought to increase.
Pickoffs and step-offs will reset the pitch clock, and pitchers will be limited to two pitches for each plate appearance. If a runner advances, the number will be reset. A pitcher can attempt the third pickoff, but if it fails, it is a balk, enabling the runners to advance one base. The Major League Baseball Players Association stated in a statement Friday why players on the competition committee voted unanimously against implementing the pitch clock and banning the shift.
Player leaders from across the league were engaged in on-field rules negotiations through the Competition Committee, and they provided specific and actionable feedback on the changes proposed by the Commissioner’s Office. Major League Baseball was unwilling to meaningfully address the areas of concern that Players raised, and, as a result, Players on the Competition Committee voted unanimously against the implementation of the rules covering defensive shifts and use of pitch timer.
Meanwhile, the bases will increase from 15 to 18 square inches. It is expected that the larger size allows fewer collisions around the bag and slightly shortens the distance between bases.
In addition, teams will be granted an extra mound visit in the ninth inning if they have used up their allotted five visits. If a team still has visits left, it does not receive an extra one. To get the latest updates, keep an eye on Thirsty.
What’s your opinion on the new set of rules? Let us know in the comments!