Following experiments in the Minor Leagues, the recently formed Joint Competition Committee voted in favour of three-rule changes aimed at improving pace of play, action and safety at the Major League Baseball Level.
The pitch timer, defensive shift limits and bigger bases were the only three rules proposed by MLB to the JCC.
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Speaking to ESPN, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said: “We’ve tried to address the concerns expressed in a thoughtful way, respectful, always of the history and traditions of the game, and of player concerns.
“Our guiding star in thinking about changes to the game has always been our fans. We’ve conducted thorough and ongoing research with our fans and certain things are really clear. Number one, fans want better pace (of play). Two, fans want more action, more balls in play. And, three, fans want to see more of the athleticism of our great players.
“The rule changes we’re announcing have been thoroughly tested and refined for years in the Minor Leagues. Each of these rules have been tested in approximately 8,000 Minor League games dating back to last season.”
Pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch with the bases empty and 20 seconds with the runners on base. Hitters will need to be in the batter's box with eight seconds on the pitch clock.
At last check, the pitch timer had reduced the average time of a Minor League game by about 26 minutes, which is a significant difference.
The average time of a nine-inning major league game in 2022 was three hours and four minutes, which is actually a six-minute decline from 2021’s all-time high.
The game time had been steadily rising since first crossing the three-hour mark in 2014. This rule which limits throws to first base has also increased stolen base attempts.
The pickoff rule will be interesting to see over the course of the season and how the pitchers feel about it. The players have been ambivalent towards the new rule, with veteran pitchers suggesting that rushing-through high-leverage situations gives an unfair advantage to the batting side.
Many young players are used to the new rule in the Minor Leagues and have spent time over the past couple of seasons adjusting to it.
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The bases will be bigger, from the traditional 15 inches square to 18 inches square. Home plate will be unchanged. This will have a modest effect on stolen bases, the main purpose was for player safety at first base.
Fielders will have an extra three-inch advantage to stay out of harm’s way from the baserunner when receiving throws.
There will be more stolen base attempts between second and third base, that is the theory. The bigger bases could also have the effect of reducing oversliding in which a player loses contact with the bag while sliding through it.
The league wide batting average in 2022 was down to .243, the lowest since 1968. A lack of singles has been highlighted as the heart of the decline.
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.
These restrictions are intended to increase the batting average of balls in play, to allow fielders to showcase their athleticism and to restore more traditional outcomes on batted balls.
The four infielders must be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.
Infielders may not switch sides. In other words, a team cannot reposition its best defender on the side of the infield the batter is more likely to hit the ball.
If the infielders are not aligned properly at the time of the pitch, the offence can choose an automatic ball or result of the play.
This rule does not preclude a team from positioning an outfielder in the infield or in the shallow outfield grass in certain situations. But it does prohibit four-outfielder alignments.
Certain left-handed hitters will be all for this move, however it will be interesting to see in practice first during Spring Training.