Season of Change: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly About Baseball’s New Rules
Here’s our breakdown of MLB’s new rules for the 2023 season—and whether we like them or not.
By Eric Gouldsberry, This Great Game—Posted March 27, 2023
For the past eight years, Major League Baseball has been desperate to shorten the average time of game, which has crept up from two and a half hours back in the 1970s to over three hours by the mid-2010s. MLB started with little things, like shortening the time between innings, speeding up intentional walks by not requiring the pitcher to throw four actual pitches, and limiting mound visits. But despite these moves, time stood still; the pace of play did not pick up, and the average time of game held stubborn at three hours.
For the 2023 season, MLB is going for the jugular—promoting major new rules from the minors, which the league had used as guinea pigs. The intent of these changes is not just to dramatically speed up the game, but also to promote more offense, which has been on the decline in recent years with batting averages at their lowest point since 1968’s Year of the Pitcher.
What follows are the new rules, what they are intended to do, what unexpected side effects may occur, and whether we like them or not—and why.
The Pitch Clock
What it is: Pitchers will be given no more than 15 seconds from the time he receives the ball during an at-bat until he becomes set to throw the next pitch; with a runner on base, that time expands to 20 seconds. The batter will also be on the clock, needing to be in the box and ready to take the next pitch with eight seconds before time expires; he’ll only be allowed one timeout during the at-bat, while the pitcher can have no more than two “disengagements” (a step off the rubber, or a pick-off attempt)
What it’s supposed to do: Speed up the game, naturally.
What it could also do: Lead to an increase in balks, if the pitcher steps off too many times.
Do we like it? Yes, in large part because there was already a rule in the books (8.04) which mandated that pitchers had 12 seconds to deliver a ball, though it was never enforced. Why MLB never simply pointed this out to umpires without going through the whole clock thing leaves us with a big shrug, but now that the timer is set up, the process is likely to stay top-of-mind for the long term.
What it is: The bags at first, second and third base have been increased in size from 15 inches to 18. First and third are now three inches closer to home plate (which remains unchanged), and four and a half inches closer to second.
What it’s supposed to do: Jumpstart the number of stolen bases, which has become an increasingly lost art in the majors.
What it could also do: Reduce the number of infield hits, because while first base is three inches closer to home, it’s also three inches closer to the fielder making the throw. The thrown ball almost always travels faster than the baserunner, which means a close play at first could result in more outs, not hits.
Do we like it? The only good we see in this is that first basemen are less likely to have their heels stepped on by runners trying to beat out a throw, resulting in less injuries. Otherwise, it’s all unnecessary; encouraging more stolen bases is a change dictated by culture, not slightly larger bases—although stolen base attempts are up nearly 50% in Spring Training from the year before.
Quotas on Pick-Off Throws
What it is: Pitchers are allowed only two pick-off attempts per at-bat—or less, depending on how often the pitcher steps off the bag (as discussed above).
What it’s supposed to do: Like the bigger bases, it’s meant to encourage more stolen bases—and also to stop ticking off fans who boo after the third or fourth throw to first base.
What it could also do: You’ll see more pick-off attempts from catchers, who are not capped on how many times they can throw to first after a pitch.
Do we like it? In general, we’re against quotas in baseball, except when it comes to balls, strikes and outs. MLB has already quota-ized mound visits and minimum batters faced (three-batter rule), and this rule only clamps down more on the ability of players and managers to employ simple strategies.
Infield Shift Ban
What it is: There must be two infielders on each side of second base, and they cannot be stationed in the outfield.
What it’s supposed to do: Give pull hitters a better chance of getting on base, thus increasing offense.
What it could also do: Teams have already solved this ban in Spring Training by simply moving an outfielder to play the long infielder in short right or left field, as the shift ban does not apply to outfielders. Sure, that opens up a big chunk of defenseless outfield, but hitters never bothered to take advantage of an entire open side of the infield before the ban; what makes anyone think they’ll change their minds now?
Do we like it? No, we don’t. Fielders should be allowed to be stationed anywhere they want. It’s always been risk and reward; the defense focuses on one side of the field and leaves the other side exposed—and hitters, incredibly and stubbornly, always just tried to hit through the shift anyway. This rule rewards the batters’ unwillingness to adjust.
The Extra-Inning Gift Runner
What it is: At the start of every half-inning after the ninth, the team at bat is allowed to place a runner at second base. It’s not a new rule, but it’s now considered permanent—and it gives us yet another chance to bash it.
What it’s supposed to do: Increase the odds of a quicker result in extra innings, and thus keeping games from going on forever.
What it could also do does: Destroys the integrity of this great game by with a gimmick approach that’s the brain-dead-child of Rob Manfred.
Do we like it? No, no, a thousand times, no. Worst rule in the history of baseball. End, full stop, period. We’ve already bitched aplenty about this atrocity, and will continue to do until someone mercifully drives a stake through it.