Major League Baseball is expected to adopt three important rule changes for the MLB 2023 season, with pitch hours, bans on field shifts and larger-than-expected rules all expected to come to the majors for next season. The news was first reported by The Athletic.
All three of these rule changes have been tested and tried in the minor leagues over the past two seasons. This leads to the question, what have the minors shown about what these major rule changes could mean.
A change that will most likely be noticeable to everyone will be the arrival of the ballpark clock in the major currencies. There has been a stadium clock in the upper levels of the Palace since 2015, but the version that was used from 2015 to 2021 had glaring holes. The thrower can reset the clock simply by making a throw, for example. With this release, play times and play speed have accelerated in 2015, with the nine-run average game time for Triple-A and Double-A dropping by 11 minutes.
But the shorter playing times and the faster pace of play eroded quickly. By 2021, nine-game Triple-A games averaged 3:04 per game while Double-A games took 2:57 to play on average.
In 2022, the court clock rule approved across minors required the hitter to be in the hitter’s box with nine seconds to go to the pitch clock. If not, an automatic strike is called. pitchers are given 14 seconds to throw the field with no one at the base and 18 seconds with a runner on the base. (Triple-A times were 15 seconds and 19 seconds, respectively.) Pitchers are allowed only two attempts in any stroke. If the thrower throws a third time and does not catch the runner, the runner on the next base is automatically rewarded. The exit step is the same as the onboarding process. Hitters are allowed to call the time only once per at-bat as well.
With far fewer ways to reset the clock, reducing game time and faster tempo was important.
In Triple-A, the average game time of the nines in 2022 was taking 2:43, which is a decrease of just under 21 minutes compared to 2021. In Double-A, the average game time was reduced by 17 minutes. In High-A, the average game is more than 30 minutes shorter and the low play times are reduced by 24 minutes.
In junior ball, where there are no on-court hours, the average halftime took an extra nine minutes, up from 3:12 in 2021 to 3:13 this year.
These cuts mean that the average playing times for the nine runs ranged from 2:34 (High A) to 2:43 (Triple A). In 2021, each nine-stroke game averaged 2:57 or more, with three of the four levels leading by three hours.
|* 2022||double a||2:40:16|
|* 2022||high a||2:34:02|
|* Uses the new stadium clock rules|
The drop in takeoffs as well as the benefits that base players can get from chimes the clock down (some runners will get an extra start as the clock approaches zero) have seen a rise in stolen bases.
Across minors, teams score 1.4 base steal attempts per game and 1.1 successful base steal attempts per game. The success rate among minors is 77%. The successful 1.1 steals a game roughly matches the 1.11 loot base attempts across the full season minors in 2019.
The ban on shifts appears to be a major rule change without much evidence that it will have much of an impact. The idea behind banning shifts is to lead to more basic hits by decreasing the ability to position fielders to take advantage of hitters tendencies.
But so far there is little evidence that it leads to a higher average BABIP in minors.
These rules were adopted on a trial basis at Double-A in 2021 with four players required to put their feet on the dirt in the first half and an additional requirement to have players on the field on either side of the second base in the second half. The average batting in play with restrictions was .308 overall in 2021, up from .305 BABIP at Double-A in 2019, but down from .309 BABIP in 2018.
This year, these shift rules have been adopted across Low A, High A, and Double-A, while Triple-A has no shift restrictions. And if you look at the data without knowing which levels have added transformation constraints, you will not easily be able to tell which levels have adopted transformation constraints and which have not.
In Triple-A, with no turnaround restrictions, BABIP rose from 0.310 in 2021 to 0.311 in 2022. In Double-A, which has the same turnaround restrictions this year as it did last year, BABIP rose three points to . 311 of .308. In High-A, adoption of shift constraints lowered BABIP by seven points (.314 to .307). And in Low-A, the BABIP is down from .323 last year to .317 this year.
Major League Baseball added an additional tweak to the Florida State League’s shift rules this year. In the second half of the season, the FSL uses a turning rule in which no player can stand in a “round slide” area that extends behind the second base. With a pie slice rule, the hitters have 0.307 pips in the second half of the season. They had 0.313 BABIP in the first half with rotation rules activated across the minors.
The larger bases are best described as a very simple modification. These large 18-square-inch bases across the palace were adopted in 2022 with little fanfare. The base stolen rate and pass rate for minors went up in 2022, but this has much more to do with other rule adjustments than it has to do with larger rules.
Unlike this year, where it was adopted universally across minors, the bigger bases were Triple-A’s season split experience in 2021. The bigger bag at the start makes it easier for the first basemen to avoid taking a big hit, and there are some ideas that are thought to be Slightly larger bases (three inches larger than previous 15-inch versions) will encourage base theft.
In fact, the season split experience didn’t prove it. In 2021, in the first half with smaller bases, Pacific Coast League teams stole 0.66 bases per game with a 75% success rate. In the second half of the season with the bigger bases they stole 0.61 bases per game with a 75% success rate. The International League saw the number of steals rise from .76 bases stolen per game with smaller bases to .83 bases with larger bases, but the success rate dropped from 77% with smaller bases to 76% with larger bases.
The batting average for the International League with smaller bases in 2021 was 0.44, and with larger bases it was 0.245. The Pacific Coast League hit average in 2021 with smaller bases was .271 and was 0.270 with larger bases. In other words, larger bases may reduce casualties due to collisions, but are unlikely to change the offensive environment in any significant way.
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One of the items not included in the list of MLB rule changes for 2023 is the automated volleyball system that has been tried at various levels of the minors and partner Atlantic League for several years. While there have been a lot of mixed reviews about the fully robotic strike zone, the experience in 2022 where the home board referee calls balls and hits, but each team has a limited number of appeals to check the call with the robotic strike area is generally more positive reviews from players and coaches. .