Major League Baseball’s 2023 rule changes are about time, equity, and safety. None of these changes are something any true MLB fan can quibble about because these things are truly needed. I will go into the three major changes in detail and give my reasons why they are necessary and compelling ones.
Anyone who has gone to an MLB game or even watched one on TV can tell you that in previous years the games went on for a long time. It was a real drag on the game when a pitcher did things to stop the flow of the game like picking up the rosin bag, adjusting his cap, and walking off the mound.
The Pitch Timer takes the wind out of these delayers of the game’s sails. Between batters there will be a 30-second clock. Between each pitch there is a 15 second window for the pitcher with no one on base. The timer goes up to 20 seconds when there is someone on base. These rules are welcome relief for both the fan and for the players themselves.
The rule also limits how many times a pitcher can throw to first base when a runner is there – in the past a pitcher could throw over there as many times as he wanted.
Will this rule increase stolen bases? It seems to be designed to do just that. If a pitcher cannot keep a runner close at first base, the runner has a greater chance of stealing a base. The pitcher is allowed “two disengagements” (throws to first base). If the pitcher makes a third pickoff attempt, the runner is awarded the base.
Not Easy on Batters
The Pitch Timer is not just about pitchers; it affects batters too. “Batters must be in the box and alert to the pitcher” in eight seconds or get charged an automatic strike. This is a tough rule but a good one. Batters have too many tactics to delay a game, especially ones with ticks and quirks that are part of their process of preparing to hit.
The Pitch Timer works. The average length of a game during the 2022 season was three hours and three minutes. That is just way too long of a haul for fans. Using the Pitch Timer in the Mets spring training game against the Nationals on Sunday, February 26, 2023, the game took two hours and 26 minutes. Doing a little math using last year’s average, that’s a savings of 37 minutes and means the new rules are working.
If you are a true fan of the game, you know that shifting the defensive players on the field has gotten out of hand in recent years. For example, last season, New York Met Daniel Vogelbach would have four players positioned on the infield and outfield grass between second base and first base when he came to the plate. This would drive me crazy because that is not the way I was taught to play baseball growing up.
With the new rules, players “must be within the boundary of the infield” (meaning not playing as a fourth outfielder). Two infielders also must be “completely on either side of second base.” This change is welcome because the past shifting robbed many players of legitimate hits due to unusual alignments of defensive players.
Of course, this rule is hitter – and fan – friendly. The goal of the rule is “to restore more traditional outcomes on batted balls.” In other words, going back to the way the game was designed to be played. A shortstop is supposed to be in the area between third and second base, not on the outfield grass between second and first.
The base – the thing the game is designed around because the runner goes from base to base – has increased in size from 15 to 18 inches (home plate has not changed). The reasoning is “to give players more room to operate and avoid collisions.” There is also an increased advantage for the runner who is trying to steal a base – four and a half inches to be exact.
I believe the biggest benefit with this change is for the first baseman. When the runner is coming down the line, there is more room for the first baseman to keep contact with the bag and not risk getting stepped on and injured by the runner as I have seen happen too many times over the years.
Changes Good for the Game of Baseball
Overall, these new rule changes are good for the game, for the players, and for the fans. Baseball has dragged its feet for a long time in terms of game time. Basketball, hockey, and football all have exact times for quarters or periods. Yes, there are timeouts and other things that slow down those games, but fans have a rough expectation of about how long they will be watching. Of course, extra innings and rain delays can still drag out a baseball game, but the Pitch Timer is a most welcome development.
The field positioning and bigger bases are offense-friendly changes. Fans like to see a great pitching duel once in a while, but for the most part they are more excited by offense. What is more thrilling than seeing Francisco Lindor steal a base or Pete Alonso sock a ball into Flushing Bay? This baseball fan is looking forward to seeing these rules change baseball for the better in the 2023 season.