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MLB is tweaking some of its new rules, but the pitch timer limits will remain

There are a few small changes that will come to the rules instituted this spring that have picked up the pace of play.

Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Tuesday, we learned, via Evan Drellich of The Athletic, that Major League Baseball was considering tweaking some of the new rules instituted for the 2023 season.

Today, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that there will in fact be some tweaks — but not for the pitch timer (also known as the “pitch clock”):

MLB, which has control over on-field rules, will continue with the parameters of the pitch clock that players have been using all spring: 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on base, plus the hitter needing to be “alert” in the batter’s box with 8 seconds remaining.

Passan reports that pitch timer violations have dropped from 2.03 per game in the first week of spring games to 1.03 per game last week, which matches with the anecdotal evidence I have from having attended 14 spring games. This was expected to happen as players got more used to the timer. I would imagine there will be very few such violations once the regular season begins. This should help eliminate the idea that a game could be decided on a timer violation, as it was on the first spring weekend in a Red Sox/Braves game.

Here are the issues MLB is tweaking, with some comments from me:

The most important piece of the memo distributed Wednesday was the league changing replay review rules on potential violations of the infield shift ban. With the possibility of teams regularly issuing challenges after outs in hopes that one of the four infielders was positioned with his feet on the outfield grass — which would negate the out and return the batter to the plate — the memo said on batted balls that only the positioning of the defender fielding them could be challenged.

COMMENT: This tightens up the rule and is fine with me. This also would likely reduce the number of possible challenges on defensive positioning, which would help keep the pace of play (and game time) moving.

On malfunctions of the PitchCom units that allow the pitcher and catcher to communicate electronically, players must immediately inform umpires, who can grant time and stop the ticking clock. PitchCom has become a vital tool for players since its introduction last year. Perhaps as soon as this week, sources said, the league is expected to approve their use by pitchers, who with it could call their own games.

COMMENT: Again, this is a useful tweak to make sure that technology is working the way it’s supposed to work.

On brushback pitches and “big swings” — which either knock equipment out of place or land a player splayed out on the ground — umpires will delay the start of the clock and, if the clock operator starts it early, have the ability to wave off the timer.

COMMENT: This makes a great deal of sense. Umpires do have discretion on starting the clock and this gives them more discretion.

In situations where pitchers find themselves away from the mound — whether to cover first base or back up throws to home or third base in foul territory — the 30-second between-batters clock will be delayed. It restarts when the pitcher making a play at first is back on the infield grass and one backing plays up is in fair territory.

COMMENT: This is a common-sense tweak that acknowledges that players aren’t simply robots who can jump up and be in place immediately.

Leniency for catchers who end an inning on base or at-bat. Umpires could turn off the 2-minute, 30-second between-innings clock at the 30-second mark if the catcher has made a “reasonable effort” to abide by the timer. If it reaches that point, a catcher will be allowed to receive one warmup pitch from the pitcher and make a throw down to second base to ensure he, too, has warmed up his arm.

COMMENT: This one doesn’t make sense to me. The inning breaks aren’t any longer than they were last year, or for the last several years. Catchers were always able to make it back from being on the bases or at bat previously — what’s different now?

Nevertheless, this shouldn’t add too much time to a game, since it’s likely a catcher would be in a situation like this maybe once or twice a game, at most.

Placing the onus on hitters to restart the clock if they take a timeout. Hitters may call time once in an at-bat, and previously, the clock was starting from 15 or 20 when players stepped into the batter’s box and were alert, leading to pitchers potentially holding the ball for long periods of time. Under the new guidelines, a player, regardless of where he is standing, must indicate to an umpire that he is ready to resume play, at which point the umpire will tell the operator to wind the clock.

COMMENT: Ugh. This will make hitter timeouts longer, no doubt, and drag the pace of play down. Fortunately, hitters are still limited to doing this once per at-bat.

The good news is that they’re not going to change any of the pitch timer rules — those times (15 seconds with no one on base, 20 with runners on, and a hitter “attentive” to the pitcher with eight seconds remaining) will stay the same. This is the thing that’s improved the pace of play (and, not coincidentally, the lengths of games) the most.

Kudos to MLB for the rule changes and also for most of the tweaks. They’re at least paying attention to the on-field product, which should be lots better this year.