New MLB Rules: Good or bad for the game?

Charly Skelton

Baseball has changed and evolved several times since its conception in 1839. We went from players with no gloves to wearing batting helmets, to integrating the MLB in 1947, to assistant replay, and now to the new rules instituted this season. Before stating how this is already changing the game, here is a quick refresher on the new rules brought in in the 2023 season:

  • The limitations on the shift. Until this season, the defense was allowed to shift into any position they wanted when facing a hitter. Managers and coaches used statistics and probability to hypothesize where a batter would hit the ball. It was extremely effective against heavy pull hitters such as Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo. Last season, Gallo had a career low batting average of a dismal .160 BA. But it wasn’t just Gallo who batted poorly – the league as a whole had a BA of .263. The MLB saw that the shift was causing fewer runs to be scored in games. The new rules dictate that all four infielders must be on the infield dirt or grass. 
  • Bigger bases. To speed up the game, the MLB increased the size of all three bases from 15 to 18 inches. This change was made to encourage teams to steal more. Their purpose is to also decrease injuries as the smaller bases didn’t give runners enough space to slide into them safely.
  • Disengagements from the mound. Every time the pitcher steps off of the mound, whether it’s to try and pick off a runner on base, fake a pick off, or simply take time by stepping off of the pitching rubber, it is called a disengagement. Pitchers are now only allowed to disengage twice per at-bat without penalty, whereas they used to be allowed to do so as many times as they wanted. If a pitcher disengages a third time, they will be charged with a balk unless at least one runner on base advances a base or is thrown out.
  • The pitch clock. Of course, the pitch clock rule has caused the most controversy due to the older fans not wanting to change the game. However, games were taking too long when pitchers stepped off and took up to 30 seconds to throw a pitch. It left TV ratings down, and, to address the younger audience, the MLB wanted to speed up the game. The new rules give pitchers 15 seconds to pitch the ball with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on base. Hitters must be in the box engaged with the pitcher, “ready to hit” before the clock reaches eight seconds. If the batter isn’t ready before the clock reaches eight seconds, they will be penalized with an automatic strike. If pitchers aren’t starting their delivery by the time the clock strikes zero, they will be penalized with an automatic ball.

For more information, click here: 2023 Rule Changes

The number one reason for these changes is to speed up the game. Many times when new rules are introduced, it is on a small scale to test the waters. However, this wouldn’t have been possible with these rules as they correlate with each other. They are all part of MLB’s plan to speed up the game, and it is working. Games are down 31 minutes from last year and are on track to be the shortest since 1984. There has also been a sub two-hour game this year, when the Miami Marlins defeated the Minnesota Twins 1-0 in one hour and 57 minutes. 

Stolen bases have also increased. Combined with the bigger bases and the limitations on disengagements from the mound, stolen bases have increased 30 percent. It is giving the fans a shorter, more action-packed fan experience, which was the MLB’s intention. 

If you have been to any Minor League Baseball games since 2015, you would have noticed that they have the pitch clock as well. When the MLB proposes rule changes, they introduce it in the minor leagues, giving them a chance to see how it affects players and fans. They tested the pitch clock in AA and AAA games and saw the good that it was doing and decided to bring it to the majors. 

The same goes for any rules the MLB wants to implement. In fact, this year, the Atlantic League (AAA league on the East Coast) is testing out having a designated runner. Much like the designated hitter, the designated runner can sub in to run for any player on base without subbing into the game.

There have been mixed reactions to the rule changes, mostly in the older demographics. In a poll done by The Glove on Instagram, 56 percent of voters weren’t fans of the rule changes, and 44 percent were for the changes.

SFHS baseball manager Ian Farris supports the changes. “I love the new rule changes!” Farris exclaimed. “I’m obviously a diehard baseball fan and would watch it in any form, but I think these rules really help the more casual baseball fans.”

He brings up a great point when mentioning casual fans: As our society moves quickly in everything that we do, baseball has always been the slower of the four major sports in North America. It is the only sport that doesn’t have a timer and can go as long as necessary until there is a winner. 

The NFL can end in a tie after a ten-minute sudden death overtime, and the NHL does a 4v4 five-minute overtime, rather than another 5v5 20-minute overtime period. And if it is still tied, then it goes to a 1v1 shootout like in soccer. The only other sport that can compare to the length of MLB games would be the NBA. The end of NBA games can get very long when teams call multiple timeouts within the last two minutes of a game, and then they often foul intentionally to try to get possession of the ball back. If it is still tied, it happens all over again with a five-minute overtime period. But the NBA is still timed. 

In baseball, there have been games that go into the next day. The longest MLB game ever was in 1920 when a 26-inning game between the Brooklyn Robbins and the Boston Braves went a whopping eight hours and six minutes. While that was over 100 years ago, games don’t have to go 26 innings for them to take four hours or more to complete. The three longest games in nine innings have all happened in this century, with two having a time of 4 hours and 30 minutes, and the other 4 hours and 45 minutes. 

Coach Ian brings up a great point, stating, “It’s hard to keep the attention with so much downtime. The pitch clock speeds up the time between innings so there is less dead time and moves things along.” Less downtime in between innings also means fewer commercials, keeping the fans’ attention longer. 

In the past, most fans would look at their phones during commercials or during a pitching change, and would then remain consumed in their phone even after the game restarted. By the time they looked up, the game could be over or back to a commercial. The pitch clock does a lot of good for the fans and fan engagement.

While some fans don’t like the rule changes, they will likely come around. All four major sports have absorbed new rules over the last 100 years. From introducing the forward pass in the NFL, to adding the three-point line in the NBA, to even mandating helmets and pads in the NHL, major sports have evolved and people still love them. That’s why they are still popular.

Coach Ian added, “There may be some initial repercussions, but after this year, everyone should be adjusted. All in all, the rule changes in the MLB this year are going to be great for the growth of the game.”

Coach Ian’s last remark will stand the test of time as sports evolve and change along with society. Only time will tell how these changes will affect America’s Pastime.