|Photo by Jason Schott.|
Major League Baseball announced on Friday that they will be implementing three rules changes for the 2023 season that have been largely expected: a pitch timer, the outlawing of defensive shifts, and bigger bases.
They were approved by a majority vote of the new joint Competition Committee for play during the 2023 Championship season, as MLB calls it, including spring training and the postseason. This committee was created as a part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) in March of this year.
Commissioner of Baseball Robert D. Manfred said in a statement, "These steps are designed to improve pace of play, increase action, and reduce injuries, all of which are goals that have overwhelming support among our fans. Throughout the extensive testing of recent years, Minor League Baseball personnel and a wide range of fans - from the most loyal to casual observers - have recognized the collective impact of these changes in making the game even better and more enjoyable. We appreciate the participation of the representatives of the Major League Baseball Players and Umpires in this process."
An Look At Each Of The New MLB Rules:
Pitch Timer: A pitcher must begin his motion before the timer expires, and pitchers will have 15 seconds between pitches when the bases are empty and 20 seconds when there is a runner on. Testing in the Minor Leagues involved 14 seconds with the bases empty and 18 seconds (19 in Triple-A) with at least one runner on base.
A pitcher can disengage the rubber (timer resets) twice per plate appearance without penalty. Disengagements after that result in a balk, unless an out is recorded on a runner. The disengagement count resets if the runner advances. Testing in the minors had no reset until the following plate appearance.
A hitter must be in the batter's box and alert to the pitcher with at least eight seconds remaining. Testing in the minors included nine seconds remaining. A hitter receives one timeout per plate appearance, and umpires can grant more time depending on the circumstances, such as the catcher making the last out of the prior inning and needing more time to get to his defensive position.
MLB stated, in the press release, that the goal of this is that, "A Pitch Timer will improve pace of play and reduce dead time." Key stats include: it reduced the average nine-inning game time by 26 minutes this season, from 3:04 in 2021 to 2:38 in 2022, while increasing action on the field; stolen base attempts went up from 2.23 in 2019, at a 68 percent success rate, to 2.83 in 2022, at a 77 percent success rate; and in its most recent week of play, Minor League Baseball has averaged just 0.45 Pitch Timer violations per game.
Defensive Shift Restrictions: Two infielders must be positioned on each side of second base when the pitch is released, something MLB is terming "Lateral Positioning." All four infielders must have both feet within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber, and infielders may not switch sides unless there is a substitution.
MLB said of the goal of this rule change, "A set of restrictions will return the game to a more traditional aesthetic by governing defensive shifts, with the goals of encouraging more balls in play, giving players more opportunities to showcase their athleticism, and offsetting the growing trend of alignments that feature four outfielders."
Defensive alignments with four players in the outfield increased nearly six times across Major League Baseball since the start of the 2018 season.
Bigger Bases: The goal of this rule is to improve player safety, as the size of first, second, and third base will increase from the standard 15-inch square to an 18" square. It will reduce the distance between first and second and between second and third base by 4.5", which will encourage clubs to attempt to steal bases more frequently and to generally be more aggressive running the basepaths.
Base-related injuries decreased by 13.5 percent in the Minor Leagues this season, including declines at every level of the Minors.