Major League Baseball has adopted its first pitching clock, limits on defensive shifts and larger bases for next season in a bid to shorten games and increase offense in a sport tied to lore.
The decision on the clock and shift restrictions by the sport’s 11-player competition committee came on Friday despite unanimous opposition from players on the panel, who approved of the larger bases. The changes had long been pushed by Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred in an effort to combat the four-decade rise in timeouts and the stifling of the offense in the age of analytics.
“Throughout extensive testing over the past several years, minor league staff and a wide range of fans – from the most loyal observers to casual observers – have recognized the collective impact of these changes in making the game even better and more nice,” Manfred said in a statement.
Until last winter, MLB required a year’s notice to change on-field rules without players’ association approval. The union agreed in the March lockout settlement to establish the committee, which includes six management representatives, four players and a referee.
“Players live the game – day in and day out. The rules and regulations on the pitch impact 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 the areas of concern raised by players.” The pitch clock will be 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 the lower minor league tiers.
There will be a limit of two of what MLB calls disengages — attempts to take out or not out of the rubber — per plate occurrence, and a disallowance would be called for a third or more unless there is a withdrawal. The disengagement limit would be reset if a runner advances.
A catcher will need to be in the catcher’s box with nine seconds remaining on the clock and a batter in the batter’s box and focused on the pitcher with eight seconds remaining. Penalties for violations will be a ball called against a pitcher and a strike called against a batter.
A batter may request time from an umpire once per plate appearance, and after that it would only be granted at the umpire’s discretion if the request is made while in the batter’s box.
The clock has reduced the average time for a nine-inning minor league game from 3:4 a.m. in 2021 to 2:38 a.m. this season. The average time for a nine-inning game in the major leagues this year is 3h 6min; it was 2:46 a.m. in 1989, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The offset limit requires two infielders to be on either side of the second and all infielders to be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber, and infielders cannot change sides unless there is a substitution.
The use of offsets has exploded over the past decade, from 2,357 times on balls hit in play in 2011 to 28,130 in 2016 and 59,063 last year, according to Sports Info Solutions. Shifts are at the rate of 68,000 this season.
Base sizes will increase from 15 square inches to 18 square inches, promoting safety – first basemen are less likely to be walked on – but also increasing stolen bases and offense with a 4.5-inch decrease in the base. distance between first and second, and second and third.
Committee members include St Louis CEO Bill DeWitt Jr, San Francisco President Greg Johnson, Colorado CEO Dick Monfort, Toronto CEO Mark Shapiro, Seattle President John Stanton and Boston President Tom Werner, and referee Bill Miller. Players on the panel include Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow, Blue Jays outfielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield and Giants outfielder Austin Slater, and Cubs outfielder Ian Happ also participated as substitute.
Pitch clocks and shift limits: MLB passes sweeping rule changes for 2023