by Pedro Mora
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Major League Baseball It is taking steps and hopes to significantly speed up the pace of play at the start of next season. Perhaps most importantly, the league also sets up rules that will encourage hitters to put more balls into play – and encourage headers to try more storied bases.
Athletic first reported the new rules on Thursday. The league considered such changes for several years, in some cases predating Rob Manfred’s eight-year tenure as commissioner. In his early days in the role, Manfred spoke of wanting to constrain the intense defensive shift that has become so ubiquitous after late periods. Tampa Bay Rays I used it to great effect. Here’s what finally happens: Two offenders must now be on either side of the second base when the playing field is turned over, and all four players must keep their feet on the field.
Opinions differ on how these restrictions can fundamentally change the usual gameplay. On the one hand, some in the industry believe that hitters were motivated to swing for fences because any balls they didn’t hit in the air are repeatedly sent by outgoing defenders. These methods seem to have led to more homeowners, more strikes, and of course, less everything else. The number of balls in play was 33% lower in 2020 compared to 2005.
On the flip side, some say that any hitter who can’t adapt to a defensive lineup after years of notice won’t be able to make a sudden change to their swing by next season, for example.
But in conjunction with the new 15-second pitch clock (20 seconds with the runners up), shift bans will likely result in more balls being produced in play – and more hits. Pitchers will lose a precious few seconds to recover between throws, which can reduce peak speed. Plus, they’ll risk being shocked if they try more than two pieces per board appearance, which reduces recovery time and makes stolen bases better suggestions.
Larger bases will help in this endeavor, too. In this century, entire teams have been trying to use fewer stolen bases than the top racers themselves did at the end of the last century, after data showed success rates would have to approach 75% to justify the effort. The reported basic change from 15 to 18 inches square will make the trip between bases a little shorter.
However, the stadium clock gets the most attention in the six months leading up to Opening Day 2023. Many fans have long liked baseball’s lack of any timing mechanism. Since it was first introduced in minor leagues, many industry insiders have quickly learned to stop worrying and love the clock. Last season, an MLB scout marveled at the immediate improvement in his quality of life after it started. Quickly, games were ending faster by over 20 minutes on average. He said his family members recklessly remarked to him that he seemed happier.
Fans who attend a few games a year – not 150 – may feel differently, especially at first. But the players themselves often lament the slow pace of play – while, of course, contributing to it through their deliberate preparation.
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These changes are baseball’s attempt to attract future generations of fans. They’re a little late, but they’re also a lot tougher than many industry insiders expected. Previously, the league attempted to make less aggressive changes, such as the three-stroke minimums for bowlers and overtime limits. These got some criticism and less support, and didn’t significantly reduce play times.
Because of the formation of the 11-person Competition Committee that voted on matters on Friday, the league has long had the ability to make such a major unilateral shift. Now, after years of debate and experimentation, change is coming. If the minor leagues are any indication, the velocity-oriented adjustments will lead to some protest and some confusion. Then it will lead to much shorter games with fewer lulls.
It is not clear how immediate and impact the shift restrictions will be. Baseball will likely look drastically different in 2023, and we’ll look at these changes as the beginning of the sport’s new paradigm. It’s also possible that the potential effects have been exaggerated, and that modern gamers like to swing in search of fences and won’t stop now. Time will tell.
Pedro Moura is the National Baseball Writer for FOX Sports. He has previously covered Dodgers for The Athletic, The Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and LA Times, and his university, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of “How to Beat a Broken Game”. Follow him on Twitter @Pedromora.
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