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Saturday, April 20, 2024

New rules will change how professional baseball is played

The MLB has implemented new rules for the upcoming season, including a pitch clock, shift restrictions, bigger bases and more

 

By PATRICK FIGUEROA— sports@theaggie.org

 

For the 2023 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, fans are going to see a very different on-field product comparison to previous years. The MLB Joint Competition Committee voted in favor of implementing new rules for the upcoming season, including shift restrictions, bigger bases, a pitch clock, a permanent “ghost runner” and limits on position players pitching

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke about the new rules in a press conference

“Our guiding star in thinking about changes to the game has always been our fans,” Manfred said. “What do our fans want to see on the field? We’ve conducted thorough and ongoing research with our fans, and certain things are really clear — Number one: fans want games with better pace; two: fans want more action, more balls in play; and three: fans want to see more of the athleticism of our great players.”

Manfred also mentioned that the new rules have been tested and refined in the minor leagues in recent years. He estimates that they were tested in about 8,000 Minor League games last season, which is the equivalent of three-and-a-half MLB seasons. 

The introduction of the pitch clock is supposed to improve the game’s pace. The amount of time allotted to throw a pitch will vary depending on the in-game situation: 15 seconds with no runners on base and 20 seconds with runners on base. If the pitch clock expires before the pitcher throws a pitch, then the umpire will automatically call a ball. In addition, hitters need to be in the batter’s box and ready to hit with eight seconds left on the pitch clock. Failure to do so will result in an automatic strike. 

MLB found that the pitch clock decreased the length of the game by 25 minutes in the minor leagues. For a league in which the average game length has increased by half an hour since 1972, the pitch clock will hopefully be able to return game length to what it once was. So far, during the 2023 spring training, the average game length is two hours and 39 minutes — a 22-minute decrease from the previous year’s spring training. 

Also related to the new pitch clock rules, pitchers will be limited to two disengagements — a pick-off move to tag a runner on base or to step off the mound — during each at bat. Exceeding the limit will allow any runners on base to advance to the next base (e.g. a runner on first base can freely move to second base). In addition, hitters will only be allowed to call one timeout during the at-bat. MLB found that this rule increased stolen base attempts by 26%. 

New regulations regarding infield shifts are also being introduced. Prior to this season, MLB defenses could implement various types of shifts, which are instances when three infielders line up on one side of the field because hitters are more likely to hit in that direction. When a shift is implemented, there are generally fewer balls in play, and “three true outcomes” baseball — plays ending in a strikeout, walk or home run — increased significantly

MLB is introducing shift restrictions to help increase the amount of balls put in play. At least one infielder must be positioned on each side of second base when the pitch is released, and infielders are also prohibited from going into the outfield before the ball is in play. MLB found that shift restrictions increased batting average, lowered strikeouts and gave players the opportunity to show off more athleticism. 

First, second and third bases are also increasing from 15-by-15-inch squares to 18-by-18-inch squares. Larger bases are designed to decrease the distance between each base and encourage players to steal bases more frequently. In addition, MLB found that the change decreased injury events near the bases by more than 13%. 

The automatic “ghost runner” in extra innings has also become a permanent rule for the regular season; implemented in 2020 to preserve player health and safety in the postseason, the ghost runner rule meant that there would be an automatic base runner on second base once the game went to extra innings. This was found to decrease the likelihood of marathon games that reach 13 or more innings. For instance, during the 2022 MLB season, only 11 games reached the 13th inning in comparison to 37 games in 2019. 

The last change is that position players can only pitch in games under certain circumstances: when the game is in extra innings, a team is trailing by at least eight runs or winning by at least 10 runs in the ninth inning. Prior to this season, position players could pitch at any point in which their team was down by six runs. This resulted in an MLB record 132 pitching appearances by position players last season. MLB managers took advantage of this rule to help relief pitchers stay fresh and healthy, but it compromised the level of play in some games. The new rule will encourage teams to keep up competition throughout the entire game.

So far in spring training, the biggest controversy about the new rules has surrounded the pitch clock. Fans were upset when the Boston Red Sox vs. Atlanta Braves game ended in a tie because of a pitch clock violation by the hitter. While the result does not affect either team’s record since it was a preseason match-up, it was a reminder that both players and fans will have to adjust to the new rules in the upcoming season.

With the implementation of new rules, MLB is ushering in a new era of baseball with a faster pace of play and more action. Fans wonder how this season will play out, but there is only one way to know: playing ball. 

 

Written by: Patrick Figueroa — sports@theaggie.org