Major League Baseball will implement a variety of sweeping rules changes for the 2023 season. While the focus has reasonably been on a pitch clock and restrictions on defensive shifts, there are far more changes for the new season that haven’t been discussed widely.
The changes to the rules are meant to improve the pace of play and also encourage more offensive action.
The rules were approved by an 11-member competition committee, but not unanimously. The Players Association, which holds four committee spots, voted against the biggest changes involving pitch clocks and shift restrictions, according to a statement they released after the vote.
We’ll have the off-season to digest and prepare for all of it. But to start, here is the overview of what we’ll see next year.
Pitch Clock & Batter Timeouts
- Pitchers must begin their motion before the expiration of a timer. The timer is set to 15 seconds between pitches when the bases are empty, up to 20 seconds between pitches with one or more runners are on base.
- A pitcher may step off the mound rubber (what MLB calls a “disengagement”) twice per plate appearance without penalty. But any subsequent disengagements generate a balk, unless the pitcher’s move results in a runner being called out, such as in a pick off. The disengagement count resets if the runner advances, such as after a stolen base.
- Hitters receive one timeout per plate appearance and must be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with at least eight seconds remaining on the pitch clock.
This season, MLB conducted tests at the Minor Leagues with versions of these rules. They say that compared to 2021, the pitch clock reduced an average nine-inning game time from 3 hours, 4 minutes last year to 2 hours, 38 minutes this year, a 26 minute difference.
By limiting pick off moves, stolen bases at the Minor Leagues went from 2.23 per game in 2019 to 2.83 in 2022, with stolen base success rate jumping from 68% to 77% over that time.
MLB says that defensive alignments with four players in the outfield increased nearly 6x across across baseball since the start of the 2018 season. The new shift restrictions, the league says, will return baseball to “a more traditional aesthetic.”
- Two infielders must be positioned on each side of second base when the pitch is released.
- All four infielders must have both feet within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.
- Sides: Infielders may not switch sides unless there is a substitution.
The physical size of the base pads next year will increase from a 15-inches square to 18-inches. Bigger bases will reduce the distance between first and second and between second and third by 4½ inches.
This change, MLB says, encourages teams to attempt base stealing more frequently and generally to be more aggressive on the basepaths.