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MLB rule changes: How are they working out?

During the offseason Major League Baseball implemented several rule changes to try to make the sport more entertaining and acquire an even broader appeal.

So how have those changes affected the game in the opening stages of the new campaign?

What are the key rule changes in MLB?

The primary objective of the rule changes was to increase the pace of play and the drama of the game, here are the list of changes implemented by MLB:

Pitch Timer: 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on base.
Limit of extreme shifts: Two infielders on each side of second base with both feet on the dirt or infield grass.
Larger bases: Base size increased to 18 inches x 18 inches from 15 inches x 15 inches.

Looking at the length of the game, spring training and Minor League Baseball, data suggests players get more accustomed to the pitch clock as the season goes on.

The number of timer violations dropped from 2.03 per game at the beginning of spring training to 1.48 by the end.

Over the course of the next six months, pitchers, hitters, and runners will find ways to work the clock to their advantage, but all the signs are showing that everyone will get used to the quick turnaround between pitches.

Scoring has been difficult to gauge. The 15 Opening Day games saw an average of 8.47 runs. One reason to believe that number will rise over the course of the season is each team handed the ball to their best starter.

Los Angeles Angels ace Shohei Ohtani, Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer will not be on the mound every day, so batters will face some easier pitching throughout the year.

As the season goes on of course, pitchers could become more accustomed to throwing at such high velocities so frequently, finding a better rhythm with each start featuring the pitch clock.

Cole is +650 to win the American League Cy Young award, while Scherzer is +750 to win the National League equivalent.

Pace of play not pleasing everyone

Of course with new rules it takes time to adapt and some players have complained about the pace of the game.

Philadelphia Phillies catcher, J.T Realmuto was an early complainant, speaking to the Athletic he said: "I mean, I was out of breath there catching.

"With the pitch clock, you can’t ever slow the pitcher down. It’s crazy. Once an offense gets rolling and the pitcher gets on the ropes a little bit, it’s really hard.

"You have to make a pitch quickly to get an out. Momentum is going to be huge now with how fast things happen and the pitcher not being able to get a breath in."

If the issues remain after a period of time they can still be addressed by Major League Baseball.

Commissioner Rob Manfred indicated that these new rules are not necessarily set in stone and they will be talks about adjustment if there are complaints.

"It’s important that we continue to listen and be open to adjustments in the future to make sure we get things right," he said to recently.

Stolen base count on the up

When it comes to stolen bases, teams clearly see the new rules as an advantage. There were only 40 stolen bases and just 57 attempts through the first five days last season.

Already this year there has been a significant increase, with 84 steals and 100 attempts through the same time period in 2023.

Stolen bases were up about 30% during Spring Training, all evidence suggesting the new rules are having the desired effect.

Pitch clock has its critics

The controversy so far has been with the pitch clock. In the eighth inning on opening day, the Baltimore Orioles’ pitcher Bryan Baker obtained the first strikeout in baseball history to end on a pitch clock violation against Boston Red Sox batter Rafael Devers.

Baker had a 1-2 count, but Devers was not looking at him when the pitch clock reached the eight-second mark and that became strike three.

Jim Palmer from the Baltimore Orioles broadcast booth spoke to the New York Times about the pitch clock: "It kind of left an empty feeling, and I’m not even for the Red Sox.

"I mean you’re in the stands, you paid all that money and your best hitter is called out because he’s looking at the pitcher a second or two late. I understand why we are doing it, but boy it was disappointing."

Baseball is changing to help promote the game to be quicker and more entertaining and the hope is that a more natural rhythm will play out once the rule changes have bedded in.

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