MLB introduces rule changes for 2023, including pitch clock and defensive shift limits

Major League Baseball’s competition committee voted overwhelmingly to implement larger bases, a pitch clock and defensive shift restrictions, the league announced Friday.

However, the vote was not unanimous, because announced the MLBPA that the players on the committee voted against proposals for the pitch clock and infield substitution rules because, in the words of the union, MLB was “unwilling to meaningfully address the problem areas raised by the players . . .”

However, unanimity is not required for rule changes to pass. “These steps are designed to improve pace of play, increase action and reduce injuries, all of which are goals that have tremendous support among our fans,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement released by the league. “During extensive testing over the past few years, Little League personnel and a wide range of fans—from the most loyal to the casual observer—have recognized the collective impact of these changes in making the game even better and more enjoyable. We appreciate the involvement of the Premier League’s player representatives and referees in this process.”

Here’s a look at the specific details of these changes:

Pitch clock

The goal with the pitch clock would be to reduce as much “down time” as possible, especially when there are no runners on base and the pitcher is standing on the mound holding the baseball. This has been tested on minors for several years and there are not many serious complaints.

Under the rule changes, the clock will be 30 seconds between shots. The catcher must be in his infield and ready with nine seconds left on the clock, while the batter must have both feet in the infield and “be alert for the pitcher” within eight seconds of the clock starting.

Pitchers can still get out of the rubber, which would reset the clock to 20 seconds if there is a baserunner and 15 seconds if there isn’t. However, they are only allowed to do this twice per batter. According to MLB, such changes in the minors reduced average playing time by 26 minutes and coincided with increases in stolen base attempts and stolen base success rates. Stolen base numbers may also be related to increased base size, as described below.

The rules are obviously much more detailed and specific, so check out the official details if you’re interested.

Switching rules

Shifting has been a hot topic for years, especially the “no-shifting” discussions. As of Thursday, the league batting average was a paltry .243, and while a decent chunk of that backlog from high batting average seasons is hits, the batting average on balls in play is .290 (it was .300 in 2000). The line of thinking is that if defenses shift less, more balls will find open spots, resulting in a higher average of balls in play and more action on the field.

According to the league:

  • At the release of each step, there must be a minimum of four defenders — other than the battery — with both feet in the outer boundary of the infield dirt.
  • There must be two of the four infielders on each side of second base when the pitch is released.
  • A team must designate two infielders on each side of second base, and they cannot be switched (for example, a team cannot have a fielder move back and forth based on the hitter’s handedness).

Larger bases

The bases have been 15 inches, square, on each side for decades, and the size will increase to 18 inches on each side. There is a list of reasons for the change, including that players’ feet are much larger now than when the bases were designed, possibly increasing action on the basepaths (making it easier to steal bases or take an extra base on hits), and possibly making it easier for players to stay on second and third in tight games instead of having long replays to see if a player was barely off the bag for a split second.

According to MLB, the increased base size in the minors has coincided with a 13.5 percent decrease in base-related injuries.

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