Competition Committee To Vote On Proposed 2023 Rule Changes On Friday

The competition committee is set to vote on various proposed rule changes for the 2023 season, report Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. A pitch clock, limitations on defensive shifting, pickoff limits and enlarged bases are all set to be formally voted upon tomorrow at 11:00 am CST.

As Drellich and Rosenthal note, it seems a mere formality that all the proposed changes will pass. The competition committee was established by mutual agreement between the league and Players Association during the most recent round of collective bargaining. It’s an 11-person panel designed to vote upon potential changes to the on-field playing rules. That committee is comprised of six league appointees, four MLB players and an umpire. Andy Martino of SNY reported in June that the league would be represented by Dick Monfort, John Stanton, Greg Johnson, Tom Werner, Mark Shapiro and Bill DeWitt for this round of voting. The players on the panel are expected to be Jack Flaherty, Tyler Glasnow, Whit Merrifield and Austin Slater (with Ian Happ and Walker Buehler as alternates), while Bill Miller will represent the umpires.

With MLB appointing a majority of the committee, it’s generally expected the league will be able to push through its desired changes with relative ease. (MLB had a unilateral right to change playing rules under the prior CBA, although it had been required to wait a full year after formally proposing it to the MLBPA in the event the union refused to sign off on earlier implementation). Under the current CBA, the committee can implement rules changes 45 days after making a recommendation to the union. That grace period won’t be relevant for this set of proposals, all of which are focused on 2023 and beyond.

The timing of the vote had been unclear, but it has seemed a formality for months that each of the pitch clock, a shift limitation and larger bases would be implemented by the start of next season. MLB had pushed for all three of those provisions at one point during CBA negotiations this past offseason. The parties eventually agreed to temporarily shelve any changes to the on-field product and focus on larger economic issues, but it has seemed inevitable since March that these three factors would be on the agenda (and would very likely be approved) for the 2023 campaign .

Drellich and Rosenthal report the specifics on the proposed alterations. Pitchers would have 15 seconds to begin their delivery with no one on base, while they’d have 20 seconds to start their motion with runners aboard. The countdown begins when the pitcher has the ball, the batter and catcher are in the vicinity of home plate, and all baserunners are in an appropriate position. Catchers must be in position with no more than nine seconds remaining on the clock. If either the pitcher or catcher violates the provision, an automatic ball is called.

Batters also have a time limit. They’re required to be in the box and “alert to the pitcher” with no more than eight seconds remaining on the clock. If he’s not prepared, an automatic strike will be assessed. (The league also has the authority to impose additional discipline on players and / or staff circumventing the clock). There are 30 seconds allotted between batters and 135 seconds between innings and for pitching changes.

The pickoff limit is also a pace-of-play measure. Pitchers are freely allowed to disengage from the rubber twice per plate appearance – whether to throw a pickoff or for any other reason. Doing so resets the clock for that pitch. A pitcher can disengage for a third time, but an automatic balk is assessed if the baserunner is not thrown out. Essentially, the disengagement rule limits pitchers to two “free” pickoff attempts per batter. After two unsuccessful step-offs, the pitcher can again attempt a pickoff but the baserunner would be awarded an automatic base if he’s not thrown out. If the runner advances without a ball put in play – via balk, stolen base, wild pitch, etc. – the pitcher’s disengagement limit resets.

The pickoff limit figures to incentivize more aggressive baserunning, at least among faster runners. Particularly once a pitcher uses his first two step-offs, a baserunner can theoretically extend his lead. The third disengagement means the runner won’t have free rein, but there’ll be more flexibility to push the leadoff knowing that another unsuccessful pickoff attempt is treated as a balk.

Turning to the shift restrictions, teams would be required to deploy four players (not including the pitcher and catcher) on the infield. All infielders have to have both feet on the dirt, and two players must be completely on either side of the second base bag. A shift violation results in an automatic ball, unless it occurs on a ball in play or hit batsman. If the baserunner reaches anyway, the play stands. If there’s an out recorded, the batting team’s manager decides whether to let the play stand. In most instances, they obviously wouldn’t do so, although there are certain situations (ie a sacrifice fly) where teams may be content to accept the out for the advancement of other baserunners. Whether a team violated the shift ban is subject to replay review, while possible pitch clock offenses are not.

The league has experimented with the possibility of restricting shifts for quite some time in an effort to increase the batting average on balls in play. That has included some rather complex and extreme tests in the minor leagues. Jayson Stark of the Athletic reported in July that MLB was introducing a “pie-slice” restriction on shifting at the Low-A level. Not only did that require two infielders on either side of second base, it carved out a restricted area around the bag to prevent middle infielders from playing deep and just to their side of second base to take away would-be hits up the middle. That is not in the proposed rules changes for MLB in 2023, to be clear, but it illustrates the league might experiment with further defensive restrictions down the line if the initial shift ban doesn’t produce a desired uptick in base knocks.

The bases, meanwhile, would be enlarged from their current 15 square inches to 18 square inches. That’s a small change designed to facilitate more aggressive baserunning and minimize the chance of collisions on steal attempts.

Drellich and Rosenthal report a host of other timing restrictions (on mound visits, in-stadium music, defensive timeouts, etc.) that would also go into effect if approved. The Athletic’s post is worth a full read for those interested in all the changes that seem likely to come to the majors next season.

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