Major League Baseball has passed a comprehensive set of rule changes that it hopes will fundamentally overhaul the game, voting Friday to implement pitch clock and ban defensive shifts in 2023 to speed up the pace of the game and increase action, sources told ESPN.
The League Competition Committee, made up of six property-level representatives, four players and one referee, approved a 15-second floor clock with empty bases and 20 seconds with runners, a defensive alignment that must include players on each side of the second. Base bag with both feet on dirt plus bases that limit pickup movements and expand the size of the bases.
The vote was not unanimous. Players’ representatives voted “no” to the stadium clock and shifted parts of the changes, sources told ESPN.
Pitch clock has long been tested in small leagues, when it is strictly enforced, it greatly accelerates the pace of games. Minor league games this season have consistently clocked in at just under 2 hours and 30 minutes – a time many see ideal – and average game times have settled a little more.
The rule is strict: the catcher must be in position when the timer reaches 10 seconds, the batter must be footed in the batter’s chest and be “alert” at the eight-second mark and the pitcher must begin his “move to the pitch” by the end of the hour. The bowler’s offense is an automatic ball. One hitter forms an automatic hit.
Blocking defensive shifts, once a fringe strategy that has become the norm and the curse of left-hitters, is among the more extreme versions, preventing the defensive player’s movement in multiple directions. With all four players needing dirt, the days of preparing four players will be over. More pertinently, diverting a player to play on the short right field, or simply bypassing three players to the right side of the second base bag, is no longer legal.
The defensive position of the players can be reviewed – and if the defense is deemed illegal, the batting team can choose to accept the outcome of the play or take a machine ball instead.
By limiting disengagement with the hill, either by a take-off or stepping motion, the rules hold shooters accountable who will have a turn around the clock — and are likely to increase the stolen bases exponentially, which is part of the measure the league intends to increase.
Picks and steps reset the playing court clock, and the rules will limit pitchers to two per board appearance. (The number will reset if the runner advances.) The shooter can attempt the third shot, but if he doesn’t succeed, it will be a hitch, allowing the runners to move to base.
The bases will increase 15 to 18 inches square, with the expectation that the larger size allows for fewer collisions around the bag as well as slightly shortening the space between the bases.
Additionally, teams will be granted an additional hill visit in the ninth inning if they have exhausted their five allotted visits. If the team still has visits left, it will not receive an additional visit.
Prior to 2022, rule changes were limited to league protections, which could implement on-pitch adjustments a year after players were informed that they planned a rule change. As part of a new collective bargaining agreement between the MLB and the MLB Players Association, the timetable for implementing the rules was accelerated to 45 days and included the creation of a competition commission, in which players will participate.
The panel includes Seattle owner John Stanton, St. Louis owner Bill DeWitt, Boston owner Tom Werner, San Francisco owner Greg Johnson, Colorado owner Dick Monfort, Toronto President Mark Shapiro, Tampa Bay pitcher Tyler Glasno, St. Louis pitcher Jack Flaherty, Toronto Superman Witt Murrayfield, San Francisco player Austin Slater, and referee Bill Miller.