And the changes keep coming!
Major League Baseball approved rule changes for the 2023 season after a majority approval of the rules by the Competition Committee. The changes were announced on the same day that MLB voluntarily accepted a proposal to allow minor league players to unionize and the MLBPA thanked baseball for accepting the unionization and then voiced their disapproval of two of the three new rules.
The new rules are copies of issues that have been used in Minor League Baseball. The first is the implementation of a pitch clock that will allow 15 seconds between pitches with no runners on base and 20 seconds if there is a runner or runners on base. Hitters must be “alert to the pitcher” – ready to hit – by the time either clock hits eight seconds. If they are not, the umpire will assess an automatic strike. If the clock runs out before a pitcher begins his motion, the homeplate umpire will assess an automatic ball. Batters and pitchers will also have 30 seconds between hitters.
Along with limiting time between hitters and pitches, MLB agreed to reduce the time between innings to 2:15 for regular season games, 2:40 for nationally televised games and 3:10 for postseason games. The move could cost networks and local stations advertising dollars, however, lesser availability for commercials could also kick in the law of supply-and-demand and increase the cost for each ad.
Pitchers will be allowed two step-offs or pick-off attempts per plate appearance, both of which stop the clock. On the third “disengagement,” if the baserunner is not picked off, a balk is called and all runners advance a base. The rule eliminates pitchers using a loophole to thwart the pitch clock.
A second change will reduce shifting. Teams will have to have four infielders on the infield dirt with two positioned on either side of the second base bag. Also, players are not allowed to switch positions. In other words, Alec Bohm may not move to the other side of the bag and play as a “second baseman” on a shift. Along with this rule comes a stipulation on pitchers “disengaging” from the mound.
Also, the bases will increase in size from 15 to 18 inches. The hope is that it will reduce collisions around the bag, but it will also allow for a slightly shorter distance between the bags. Think of the bang-bang plays at bases and the effect that three less inches could have on those plays. Not mentioned as part of the change in the size of bases is something that was taken on in the minors at this year’s All-Star Break. For the second half of the season, second base was actually moved in minor league baseball.
The Competition Committee is comprised of six owners, four players and an umpire. Phillies principal owner John Middleton is not on the committee, nor are any of the Phillies players. Reportedly, all four players voted against both the pitch clock and shift changes, which bring with them the disengagement rule.
The disengagement rule and larger bases could also lead to an increase in base stealing and to players getting a larger lead and jump in anticipation of balls put in play.