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Pitch Clock, Limits On Defensive Shifts Coming To MLB

Major League Baseball announced Friday that the Competition Committee – an 11-person panel consisting of six ownership representatives, four players and one umpire – has voted to implement three new rule changes for the 2023 season: a pitch clock, a limitation on defensive shifting and larger bases.

Commissioner Rob Manfred issued the following statement after the vote:

“These steps are designed to improve pace of play, increase action, and reduce injuries, all of which are goals that have overwhelming support among our fans. Throughout the extensive testing of recent years, Minor League personnel and a wide range of fans – from the most loyal to casual observers – have recognized the collective impact of these changes in making the game even better and more enjoyable. We appreciate the participation of the representatives of the Major League Players and Umpires in this process. “

The league’s press release describes the changes (and provides context from minor league testing of the pitch clock) as follows:

  • Pitch Timer: A Pitch Timer will improve pace of play and reduce dead time. The Pitch Timer Regulations include the following provisions:
    • A pitcher must begin his motion before the expiration of the timer. Pitchers will have up to 15 seconds between pitches when the bases are empty and up to 20 seconds between pitches with at least one runner on base. Testing in the Minor Leagues involved 14 seconds with the bases empty and 18 seconds (19 seconds in Triple-A) with at least one runner on base.
    • A pitcher may disengage the rubber (timer resets) twice per plate appearance without penalty.
      • Subsequent disengagements result in a balk, unless an out is recorded on a runner.
      • The disengagement count resets if the runner advances; testing in the Minors had no reset until the following plate appearance.
    • A hitter must be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with at least eight seconds remaining. Testing in the Minor Leagues included nine seconds remaining.
    • A hitter receives one timeout per plate appearance.
    • Umpires will have authority to provide additional time if warranted by special circumstances (eg, the catcher makes the last out of the inning and needs additional time to get into defensive position).
      • KEY STATS:
        • Compared to last season, the Pitch Timer has reduced the average nine-inning game time by 26 minutes (from 3:04 in 2021 to 2:38 in 2022) while increasing action on the field.
        • Stolen base attempts per game have increased from 2.23 in 2019, at a 68% success rate, to 2.83 in 2022, at a 77% success rate.
        • In its most recent week of play, Minor League Baseball has averaged just 0.45 Pitch Timer violations per game.
  • Defensive Shift Restrictions: A set of restrictions will return the game to a more traditional aesthetic by governing defensive shifts, with the goals of encouraging more balls in play, giving players more opportunities to showcase their athleticism, and offsetting the growing trend of alignments that feature four outfielders:
    • Lateral Positioning: Two infielders must be positioned on each side of second base when the pitch is released.
    • Depth: All four infielders must have both feet within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.
    • No Switching Sides: Infielders may not switch sides unless there is a substitution.
      • KEY STAT: Defensive alignments that feature four players in the outfield increased nearly 6x across MLB since the start of the 2018 season.
  • Bigger Bases: With the goal of improving player safety, the size of first, second, and third base will increase from the standard 15 ”square to 18” square.
    • Bigger bases are expected to have a positive impact on player health and keeping Major Leaguers on the field.
      • KEY STAT: Base-related injuries decreased by 13.5% in the Minor Leagues this season, including declines at every level of the Minors.
    • Bigger bases will reduce the distance between first and second and between second and third base by 4.5 ”, thereby encouraging offensive Clubs to attempt to steal bases more frequently and generally to be more aggressive on the basepaths.

The committee unanimously voted in favor of the larger bases, although as first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the players voted against both the pitch clock and the limitation of defensive shifts. The MLBPA confirmed as much in a since-issued statement, which reads:

“Players live the game – day in and day out. On-field rules and regulations impact their preparation, performance, and ultimately, the integrity of the game itself. Player leaders from across the league were engaged in on-field rules negotiations through the Competition Committee, and they provided specific and actionable feedback on the changes proposed by the Commissioner’s Office. Major League Baseball was unwilling to meaningfully address the areas of concern that Players raised, and as a result, Players on the Competition Committee voted unanimously against the implementation of the rules covering defensive shifts and the use of a pitch timer. “

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