Major League Baseball officially passed a significant package of rule changes Friday, one that is sure to have plenty of supporters and detractors.
According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, these are the noteworthy changes that the competition committee agree to:
- Infield defensive shifting has, in effect, been banned. Per Passan, infields will now be required to have "two fielders on each side of the second-base bag with both feet on the dirt." This should lead to more base hits, specifically from pull hitters that have increasingly lost hits over the past 15 years as teams have used data to shift defenders according to where players typically hit the ball to.
- A pitch clock is coming in 2023. While the removal of shifts may lead to more hits and perhaps increase the length of the game, a pitch clock will have the opposite effect, as baseball attempts to stay competitive in a society with an increasingly short attention span. Pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw each pitch if there aren't any runners on base, and 20 if there are one or more runners on base.
- Bases will be made slightly larger with player safety in mind. As players continue to get bigger, faster and stronger, MLB will increase the size of each base from 15 square inches to 18, "with expectations that the larger size allows fewer collisions around the bag." One other consequence of this rule may be an increase in stolen base attempts, with slightly less real estate for runners to traverse in between bases. The guess here is that fans largely won't notice the bases being bigger, at least until they try to figure out why stolen bases are seeing an uptick around the league.
- During each plate appearance, pitchers will be limited in how often they can attempt to pick a runner off. The league is now referring to either a pickoff attempt or stepping off the mound -- both intended to keep a base runner from trying to steal a base -- as "disengagements." As Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com notes, you will now only get two "disengagements" per plate appearance. The only catch is that if a player steals a base -- let's say they start the plate appearance on first base and steal second -- the pitcher then gets two new "disengagements." You can try a third pickoff, but if the third attempts isn't successful, it will essentially be treated the same way as a balk, with the runner getting to move up one base.
While these rule changes have generally been seen as inevitable, it is worth pointing out that Passan hears that the four player representatives on the competition committee -- Whit Merrifield, Austin Slater, Jack Flaherty and Tyler Glasnow -- all voted against the shift ban and the pitch clock.
These changes will take effect beginning in 2023, with the current rules remaining in place for the remainder of the 2022 season.