Major League Baseball’s rule changes for 2023 were a tremendous success. The pitch timer cut 24 minutes off the average time of game. The larger bases and restrictions on defensive shifts helped bring more action to the game.
I don’t particularly like Rob Manfred as MLB Commissioner, but credit where it’s due, he did good here. Really good.
Thursday, MLB announced some changes that more or less tweak what happened last year, clarifying some things and introducing a couple of things that will help prevent circumvention of some of the 2023 rules. These were approved by MLB’s Competition Committee, which consists of six owners, four players and one umpire.
John Stanton, Chairman of the Seattle Mariners and also chairman of the Competition Committee, said in a statement: “From its inception, the joint Competition Committee’s constructive conversations between players, umpires and owners have produced rules that significantly improved the game for fans. These modifications will improve on last year’s work by the Competition Committee, which was a resounding success with our fans and for the sport. I want to thank the Commissioner’s Office, the Players Association and the Major League Umpires for their dedication to the greatest game ever invented.”
Besides Stanton, the other members of the Competition Committee are:
Owners/management: Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), Dick Monfort (Rockies), Mark Shapiro (Blue Jays), Tom Werner (Red Sox), Greg Johnson (Giants)
Players: Jack Flaherty, Tyler Glasnow, Whit Merrifield, Austin Slater
Umpire: Bill Miller
Here are the rule modifications for 2024, with my comments:
- Runner’s Lane: The Runner’s Lane will be widened to include the dirt area between the foul line and the infield grass. Widening the lane allows batters to take a more direct path to first base while retaining protection from interference. The distance between the foul line and the infield grass will be between 18 and 24 inches in all parks, with some limited grace periods granted by MLB due to difficulty in modifying the field (e.g., synthetic turf field).
COMMENT: This is a good idea and will probably help eliminate almost all interference calls.
- Pace of Game: MLB proposed minor changes to the Pace of Game Regulations to address an increase in game time as the season progressed – the average nine-inning game time increased seven minutes from April to September (five minutes after controlling for the number pitches, breaks, and runs scored).
o Timing Between Pitches: Reduce time from 20 seconds to 18 seconds with runners on base. Pitchers began their deliveries with an average of 7.3 seconds remaining on the 20-second timer in 2023. Pitchers retain the ability to step off and re-set the Clock up to two times without penalty. Violations with runners on base were the least frequent (14% of all violations vs 32% of all pitches) in 2023. A universal 17-second Clock used for the final month of the Triple-A season did not increase violations with runners on base.
COMMENT: There was some criticism from players when this was proposed back in November. As noted above, though, average game times began to increase as the season went along, and this is intended to counter that. I doubt two seconds is going to make a lot of difference for most pitchers.
o Batter Timeouts: Based on player feedback, MLB withdrew a proposal that would have required the home plate umpire to immediately reset the Pitch Clock after a batter called timeout.
COMMENT: This is fine.
o Pitching Changes: If a new pitcher steps onto the warning track with less than 2:00 remaining on the inning break Clock, the Clock will reset to 2:00 rather than 2:15 as was the case in 2023. Inning breaks that contained a pitching change averaged 2 minutes and 35 seconds in 2023 (broadcasters are only guaranteed two minutes of commercial time).
COMMENT: Also fine, and will help keep the game moving along when a new pitcher comes into the game.
o Mound Visits: Mound visits will be reduced from five per game to four, and an extra mound visit will still be awarded for the ninth inning if the defensive team has zero remaining at the end of the eighth inning. Mound visits rank among fans’ least favorite events in baseball. Clubs averaged only 2.3 mound visits per game in 2023. Last season, 98% of games would not have exceeded a limit of four mound visits. Umpires will also permit defensive players to signal for a mound visit without actually visiting the mound to further help improve pace of game.
COMMENT: As noted, if teams averaged 2.3 mound visits per game in 2023, this shouldn’t make a big difference for just about any team. I can remember the Cubs getting down to zero mound visits maybe once or twice all year. The change allowing defensive players to signal for a mound visit without actually visiting the mound is also a good one.
o Circumvention: The FTC will now restart the timer after a dead ball (e.g., foul ball) when the pitcher has the ball and play is ready to resume. There will no longer be a requirement for the pitcher to be on the mound, removing the pitcher’s ability to delay the start of the timer by walking around the edge of the mound.
COMMENT: This is also a good idea — it seems that pitchers might have been using this method to stall at times during 2023. (“FTC” stands for “Field Time Coordinator,” an official from MLB in every ballpark’s press box.)
o Pitcher Who Warms Up Must Face At Least One Hitter: A pitcher who is sent out to warm up for an inning must face at least one batter (in addition to any requirements under the Three-Batter Minimum rule). There were 24 instances this season where the pitcher that warmed up between innings was replaced before throwing a pitch (adding approximately three minutes of dead time per event). There were two such instances during the 2023 World Series.
COMMENT: Yeah, this one drove me nuts. David Ross did it a couple of times that I can recall. It’s obviously gamesmanship, trying to make a manager make a pinch-hitting change to start an inning and THEN bringing in your relief pitcher. This way, that can’t be done. Good idea.
I’m glad MLB is keeping on top of these rules to make sure players don’t circumvent them, or try other ways to get around them. Baseball players will always try things to stay ahead of others, and this is a good way to “keep the line moving,” so to speak.
It should be noted that not everyone is happy with these changes. MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark said in a statement: “This afternoon, Player Representatives voted against the 2024 rule changes proposed by the Commissioner’s Office. As they made clear in the Competition Committee, Players strongly feel that, following last season’s profound changes to the fundamental rules of the game, immediate additional changes are unnecessary and offer no meaningful benefits to fans, Players, or the competition on the field. This season should be used to gather additional data and fully examine the health, safety, and injury impacts of reduced recovery time; that is where our focus will be.”