The Weekly Reed: What the new MLB rule changes mean. 


As spring training is underway, Major League Baseball announced a few changes they would be implementing this season. The rules were developed over the past few years, and this season, they will be out into practice. These changes include a pitch clock, shift changes, a ghost runner rule and base size changes. In recent years, MLB has put an emphasis on pace of play. They’ve workshopped numerous rule changes in both Minor League Baseball and Independent Leagues to test out different methods that could effectively decrease the time of the game as well as make the game more interesting to watch. Here are the methods and what they mean. 

Pitch Clock: There are only eight recorded seasons in the history of MLB that have an average time of 9-inning games over three hours. All of them occurred between 2014 and 2022, with 2015 being the exception at 2:56. To combat this, MLB tried out a pitch clock in their minor and independent league counterparts. When the bases are empty, the timer will give the pitcher 15 seconds to pitch. When a runner is on base, the timer will give the pitcher 20 seconds to pitch. Hitters, on the other hand, need to be in the batter’s box with 8 seconds on the timer. If a pitcher doesn’t deliver in time, the pitch is ruled an automatic ball, and if the hitter isn’t in the box at eight seconds, the pitch is automatically ruled a strike. 

This is supposed to decrease the time spent between pitches in order to keep the action going and limit game downtime. While this may be good for the game, it forces pitchers to rethink their approaches and learn new strategies. Boston’s new closer Kenley Jansen decided to opt out of the first rounds of the World Baseball Classic in order to work with the new pitch clock. In 2022, Jansen took the longest to deliver with runners on base in all of baseball, averaging around 31.4 seconds between pitches. Even when the bases were empty, Jansen ranked third in time between pitches with 25.6 seconds. Because of the new rules, Kenley Jansen will need to cut down 10 seconds in his delivery with both runners and no runners on base. The most glaring issue with this new rule is that 379 qualified pitchers last season had a delivery over 15 seconds without runners on base. With runners on base, 387 qualified pitchers had a delivery over 20 seconds. While there is significant of overlap between these two groups, this means that roughly 400 pitchers are going to need to change up their tempo on the mound. 

Shift Changes: Shift restrictions are a way to increase the number of hits and amount of action a fan sees in a game. Two infielders need to be on both sides of second base as well as on the infield dirt when the pitcher is on the rubber. It could potentially lead to flashier plays by infielders, which could fit MLB’s goal of generating content and growing the game. A lot of baseball minds believe that this will benefit left-handed hitters and switch hitters based on shifting patterns. If you look at the percentage an individual batter faces the shift, the top 46 batters are either switch hitters or lefties. The first right hander on the list is Steven Souza Jr. at 47, who was shifted against 84.2% of his at-bats. Pittsburgh’s designated hitter Carlos Santana, a switch hitter, led the league with 98.1% of his at bats coming against some sort of shift. 

Ghost Runner: The most controversial change has to be the runner on second rule in extra innings. It was first implemented back in the shortened 2020 season and was met with backlash from the fans. MLB responded by suspending the rule while reintroducing it occasionally throughout 2021 and 2022— now it is permanent. While many fans might not like the rule, a few longer games this postseason might have influenced the rule’s current implementation. The Astros and Mariners tied for the longest postseason game with 18 innings in the ALDS, while the Guardians and Rays played in what is the sixth-longest postseason game with 15 innings of their own. Those games didn’t help those in favor of getting rid of the ghost runner rule. When it was in use in the 2021 season, only one game went over 15 innings, with only 16 games past 11 innings. It proved to be effective in shortening games but introduces a lot of strategic bunting which might prove to be boring to fans.  

Base Size: An overlooked rule change to keep an eye on is base size changes. The plate increase was implemented to protect the players from collisions on the base paths but could easily play into a higher rate of stolen bases and easier outs. Larger bases means that base stealers have a shorter path to the next base. Most stolen bases come down to just a fraction of a second and with the bigger bases, this could benefit the runner. On the other hand, infielders technically have a shorter throw and receivers have a larger base to step on. It will be interesting to see how teams use this to their advantage on the base paths and defensive end this season. 

These rules will change the game and whether that be for the better or otherwise will soon be determined. The generational gap amongst viewers has recently become a big topic for the game and is the reason why MLB is so focused on making the game interesting. Current MLB policies try to walk the line in order to maintain viewers, while also drawing in new fans and avoiding negative impacts to the game itself.   

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