MLB adopts pitch clock, shift limits, bigger bases for 2023

MLB is rolling out some of its most radical rules next season, introducing a pitch clock and limiting defensive shifts.

NEW YORK (AP) – Major League Baseball is introducing some of its most radical rules next season, introducing a pitch clock and limiting defensive shifts after concluding that modern analyzes have created a slower, less fun sport.

The decisions were made Friday by the sport’s 11-member competitions committee over unanimous opposition from the panel’s four players. Commissioner Rob Manfred drove the innovations along with a management team that included former Boston and Chicago Cubs manager Theo Epstein, now an MLB advisor.

“The influx of data into our industry,” Epstein said, “hasn’t improved the game from an aesthetic or entertainment perspective. So in my current role, it’s my responsibility to try to look at the bigger picture and think about what’s great for fans.”

Players supported the third major initiative: larger bases, which are expected to reduce injuries and lead to more stolen bases due to a reduced 4 1/2″ distance.

Manfred called the rules an attempt to “bring back the best form of baseball.”

“Number one, the fans want games with a better pace,” he said during a press conference. “Secondly, the fans want more action, more balls in the game. And thirdly, the fans want to see more of the athleticism of our great players.”

Union leader Tony Clark was noticeably absent when he announced an agreement in March ending a 99-day lockout.

“Players live the game – day in, day out. Rules and regulations on the pitch affect their preparation, performance and ultimately the integrity of the game itself,” the union said in a statement. “Major League Baseball was unwilling to meaningfully address concerns raised by players.”

The pitch clock is set at 15 seconds with no runners on base and 20 seconds with runners – up from the 14/19 tested at Triple-A this season and 14/18 at lower minor league levels.

There will be a limit of two of what MLB calls withdrawals — pickoff attempts or steps off the rubber — per plate appearance, and a bar would be called for a third or more unless there’s an out. The disengagement limit, which some players predict will benefit baserunners, would reset when a runner advances.

A catcher must be nine seconds on the clock in the catcher’s box and a hitter must be in the batter’s box and eight seconds remaining focused on the pitcher. Penalties for infractions are a ball call against a pitcher and a strike call against a batter.

A batter may request time from an umpire once per plate appearance, and thereafter time will be granted only at the umpire’s discretion if the request is made while in the batter’s box.

The clock, which some players should change for late and close situations, has helped reduce the average time of a nine-inning game in the minor leagues from 3 hours and 4 minutes in 2021 to 2:38 this season. The average nine-inning game time in the major leagues that year is 3:07, up from 2:46 in 1989 and 2:30 in the mid-1950s.

“It reminded me of the game I watched as a kid in the ’70s and ’80s,” said former outfielder Raúl Ibañez, now MLB’s senior vice president.

Two infielders must be on either side of the second player and all infielders must be within the perimeter of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber. Infielders aren’t allowed to switch sides unless there’s a change, but five-man infields are still allowed, MLB executive vice president Morgan Sword said.

According to Sports Info Solutions, displacements have increased from 2,357 in-game shots in 2011 to 28,130 in 2016 and 59,063 last year. Shifts are underway this season for 68,000.

“I think fans will appreciate the moments without the extreme defensive switches, when games are decided not on whether their team’s infield is positioned by the perfect algorithm, but on whether their team’s second baseman can make an athletic leap when he’s with everything on the line,” Epstein said.

The MLB season batting average is down from .267 in 1997 to .243 this year, with team average runs down from 4.77 to 4.33.

“The game has evolved in a way that no one would have chosen if we had sat down to find a path to the best version of baseball 25 years ago,” Epstein said. “No one would have asked fans to wait more than four minutes for balls to be put into play. No one would have asked for generational lows and stolen bases, triples and doubles.”

Base size is increased from 15 to 18 inch squares – First Basemen are less likely to be stepped on.

Additionally, each team will be allowed a sixth mound visit in the ninth inning next year if they used five in the first eight innings.

Until last winter, it took MLB a year in advance to change the rules of the game without union approval, but the March lockout settlement established the committee. Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow, Blue Jays infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield and Giants outfielder Austin Slater represented the players Friday, a group that included Cubs infielder Ian Happ as a backup.

“It will be difficult for the boys. … It’s a shame we weren’t taken more seriously,” Merrifield said. “It’s over-corrected and they’re going to have to tweak it. And that is exactly what we wanted to avoid.”

Seattle Chairman John Stanton chaired the committee, which included St. Louis CEO Bill DeWitt Jr., San Francisco CEO Greg Johnson, Colorado CEO Dick Monfort, Toronto CEO Mark Shapiro, and Tom Werner , Chairman of Boston, and Arbitrator Bill Miller.

“It’s difficult to find a consensus in the group of players to change the game,” said Manfred. “I think at the end of the day it was all about giving the fans the kind of game they want to see.” MLB adopts pitch clock, shift limits, bigger bases for 2023

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