Spring Training is underway and there have been several rule changes in Major League Baseball that are being implemented starting this season.
Starting with the most significant and notable change, there will be a 15 second timer in between pitches, which will expand to 20 seconds when runners are on base. Furthermore, there will be 30 seconds in between each batter. Pitchers who violate the timer are charged with an automatic ball, while batters are charged with a strike.
Additionally, we see that defensive shifts have been outlawed. A defensive shift is defined by Baseball Reference as “ a scenario in which the fielders move from their normal positions for some tactical reason.” For years, there have been no limitations on where you can stand in the field and teams would use this to their advantage. Teams will look at where a player tends to hit the ball and place defenders in those spots in order to gain an edge and exploit the hitters weaknesses.
Finally, the last major rule change occurring this year is the increase of base sizes. As of 2022, bases have traditionally been 15 inch squares. Starting this campaign, they will be 18 inches, which reduces the distance between all three bags by just over four inches.
You may ask yourself, what is the reason for all these changes?
To start, viewership around the league is down. To combat this, the league has implemented a pitch clock in order to decrease the times of games and increase the pace of play. The timer has been tested in recent years in the minor leagues and has seen game times decrease by close to 30 minutes per game. The league believes that by increasing the pace of play, more people will tune in to the games and drive up ratings.
Defensive shifts have been outlawed in order to create more action throughout the league and allow for more hits and runs per game. League-wide batting average with balls in play is down significantly in recent years. Players such as Bryce Harper, Joey Gallo and Matt Olson will figure to benefit from this change, while most pitchers will be tasked with changing the way they pitch to players, particularly left handed hitters.
Last but not least, base sizes are being increased in order to allow for more stolen bases throughout the league. Last year, John Berti of the Miami Marlins led the league with 41 stolen bags. While that number might seem like a lot to some, it pales in comparison to the leaders from years past. In 2007, Jose Reyes stole 78 bases for the New York Mets, a number that has yet to be replicated or surpassed since. To put things into perspective, the all-time league leader in stolen bases, Rickey Henderson, stole 1406 bags during his 25 year career, which averages out to over 74 per year.
Personally, I have mixed opinions on the changes put in place by Major League Baseball. There is one change that I agree with and this is the bases. As far as increasing the size, I feel like this is something that is needed due to a huge decrease in stolen bases. I wasn’t old enough to watch some of the fastest players in the game such as Rickey Henderson, Kenny Lofton and Vince Coleman tear up the basepaths and I think that more stolen bases will be beneficial for the game.
Here is where I’m split. As far as the pitch clock goes, I’m very much opposed to this idea. Baseball is a strategic game and always has been since its inception in 1876. Batters and pitchers have a routine and implementing a clock will no doubt mess up this routine and completely change the mindset of participants. I played baseball for years growing up and in between each pitch I would have a routine of stepping out of the box, taking some deep breaths, and making sure I was composed and prepared to get back up to the plate and get on base for my team. I would make sure that I am lined up properly in the box to where I won’t get jammed. If I was facing a fast pitcher, I would make sure to line up in the back of the box, and vice versa. Baseball is a game that is so mental and rushing players to complete their at-bats just to increase the pace of play will change the game, just not in the way that Major League Baseball thinks. This goes hand in hand with banning the shift as it will take away the strategizing that is so important in this game.
Not only does it affect the players, it will affect the fans in attendance at the game as well. While sure, you will still be seeing the same amount of innings, the time spent in the stadium will go down and could have an impact on overall fan perception and experience. Fans spend their hard earned money in order to see their favorite players and teams take the field. By increasing the speed of the game, fans will be spending less time at the event which is a negative especially to those who can’t afford to attend multiple games per season.
Team vendors will be affected as well as less time spent in the stadium means less concession sales. This especially comes into play when you account for alcohol sales. We all know that alcohol is not cheap to purchase at sporting events. Teams usually prohibit alcohol sales following the seventh inning. With the new clock in place, the seventh inning may come an hour and a half after the start time, which gives vendors less time to make money.
I’m very excited to see baseball back in action especially with the Phillies coming off an impressive postseason run. With that being said, I have a traditional approach to the game and think that the MLB would be best to keep the game the way it is meant to be and has always been played.
Erick Klambara Fourth Year MDC Major; Minor in Journalism EK924666@wcupa.edu