Pitch Clock, Limits Defensive Transformations Coming to MLB

Major League Baseball announced Friday that the Competition Committee — an 11-person panel made up of six ownership representatives, four players and one referee — has voted to implement three new rule changes for the 2023 season: pitch hour, restrictions on defensive shifting and larger rules.

Commissioner Rob Manfred issued the following statement after the vote:

“These steps are designed to improve the pace of play, increase movement and reduce injuries, all of which are goals with overwhelming support among our fans. During extensive testing in recent years, Minor League staff and a wide range of fans – from the most loyal to casual observers – have recognized the collective impact. These changes make the game better and more enjoyable. We appreciate the participation of major league players and referees representatives in this process.”

The league’s press release describes the changes (and provides context from the league’s simple pitch test) as follows:

  • Pitch timer: Pitch Timer will improve the pace of play and reduce dead time. The Pitch Timer regulations include the following provisions:
    • The bowler must start his move before the timer expires. Shooters will have up to 15 seconds between courts when the bases are empty and up to 20 seconds between courts with at least one runner at the base. The Minor League test consisted of 14 seconds with the bases empty and 18 seconds (19 seconds in Triple-A) with at least one runner on base.
    • The pitcher may disengage the rubber (reset the timer) twice per board appearance without penalty.
      • Subsequent disengagements cause a stop, unless a runner is logged out.
      • The disengagement count is reset if the runner progresses; The test in Minors did not reset until the next panel appeared.
    • The hitter must be in the batter box and alert the bowler, with at least eight seconds remaining. The test in the minor leagues had nine seconds remaining.
    • The hitter receives one timeout per board appearance.
    • The referees will have the authority to provide extra time if special circumstances call for (eg the catcher makes the last turn of the turn and needs extra time to reach defensive position).
      • Key stats:
        • Compared to last season, the Pitch Timer reduced the average playing time by nine runs by 26 minutes (from 3:04 in 2021 to 2:38 in 2022) while increasing movement on the field.
        • Stolen base attempts per game increased from 2.23 in 2019, with a success rate of 68%, to 2.83 in 2022, with a success rate of 77%.
        • In the last week of play, Minor League Baseball averaged 0.45 field timer violations per game.
  • Defensive Shift Limitations: A set of limitations will bring the game back to a more traditional aesthetic by controlling defensive transitions, with goals to encourage more balls into play, give players more opportunities to demonstrate their athletic ability, and offset the growing trend of alliances with four outfield players:
    • Lateral position: Two offenders must be placed on each side of the second base when freeing the playing field.
    • Depth: Each of the four players must have both feet inside the outer boundary of the field when the pitcher is on the rubber.
    • No switch sides: Players may not switch sides unless there is an alternative.
      • Main case: Defensive alliances with four players on the field have increased nearly 6-fold across MLB since the start of the 2018 season.
  • Bigger rules: With the goal of improving player safety, the size of the first, second and third bases from a standard square will be increased from 15 inches to 18 inches.
    • Larger rules are expected to have a positive impact on player health and keep the major leagues on the field.
      • Main case: Base-related injuries are down 13.5% in the minor leagues this season, including declines at each of the minors’ levels.
    • Larger bases will reduce the distance between first and second base and between second and third base by 4.5 inches, encouraging offensive clubs to try to steal bases more frequently and generally to be more aggressive on base bases.

The panel voted unanimously in favor of larger bases, although as first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Bassan, players voted against pitching clocks and limiting defensive turnovers. The MLBPA confirmed this in a statement released since then, which states:

“Players live the game – day in and day out. Rules and regulations on the field affect their preparation, performance, and ultimately the integrity of the game itself. Player leaders from across the league participated in the on-field rules negotiations through the Competition Committee, providing specific and actionable feedback on the changes he proposed. Office of the Commissioner. Major League Baseball was unwilling to meaningfully address areas of interest raised by players, and as a result, players on the Competition Committee voted unanimously against implementing rules covering defensive transitions and the use of pitch timers.”