A Visual Look at The Big Rule Changes Coming to MLB

There are some big rule changes coming to Major League Baseball in 2023. To help the visual learners among us, MLB put out a graphic explaining the three big changes we’ll see in action this year.

Let’s look at each of these changes:

Pitch Timer

With the bases empty, the pitcher will have 15 seconds from when he gets the ball back from the catcher or umpire to throw his next pitch (or, more accurately, to start his delivery for the next pitch). With runners on base, that clock extends to 20 seconds. If the pitcher takes too long, a ball will be added to the count; if a hitter takes to long getting into the box, a strike will be assessed.

Last year, Alex Vesia had the longest average time between pitches at 24.5 seconds, although that comes with two caveats. First, the data we have on that sort of thing counts from the time a pitcher releases on pitch until he releases the next pitch, while the new pitch clock will start when the pitcher has the ball back in his hand. And second, Vesia somewhat uniquely pitched almost exactly half of his plate appearances with runners on base, so it makes sense that his average time would be a little longer.

There were an average of 292 pitches per game thrown in 2022. If the pitch clock cuts the time between pitches by an average of three seconds, that would cut the average game time by 14 minutes and 36 seconds. Cutting the time between pitches by five seconds would shorten the game by 24 minutes and 20 seconds.

Shift Limits

When every pitch is thrown, it will be required that two infielders be entirely on each side of second base and in front of the outfield grass. This will eliminate the extreme shifts we’ve seen in the past, where the third baseman with a lefty up will be playing shallow right field. Teams will still be allowed to position their defenders, but not nearly to the extent they have in the recent past.

There will surely be unforeseen consequences to this rule, but the expected change/improvement will be an increased batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Line drives between the first and second basemen will now be hits instead of groundouts to third. More batted balls up the middle will find their way to the outfield. And, hopefully, the strikeout rates will go down as hitters stop selling out for power quite so much, knowing they have a better chance of getting on base if they put the ball in play.

Will it work? Only time will tell. But that’s the goal, anyway.

Bigger Bases

The actual bases will be increasing in size in 2023. For the entirety of the modern game of baseball, the bases have been a 15×15-inch square; they will now be 18×18. The extra three inches each direction increase the surface area of the base by 44%, from 225 square inches to 324.

There are two goals in this change. First, the hope is for a decrease in injuries, especially at first base. With 44% more surface area on the base, there’s more room for the two players who both need a foot on the base to coexist without running into each other.

The second goal is to increase the running game. The distance between first and second base is being cut by 4.5 inches, and while that doesn’t seem like a lot, think about how many times you’ve seen a guy get thrown out stealing second base and the replay shows he was out by just a couple inches. Those would not be stolen bases.

While we’re talking about the running game, this is a good time to mention that the pitch clock rule includes a limit on pickoff attempts, which could also help the running game. A pitcher will be allowed two pickoff throws (or step-offs without a throw) during each plate appearance. If he throws a third pickoff throw and doesn’t successfully pick the runner off, it’s a balk. So pitchers will be more reluctant to throw over, allowing runners to get a little bit extra on their lead (and a little bit more extra after the second pickoff throw).

The game of baseball will be slightly different in 2023, and it should be exciting!

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Written by Jeff Snider


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