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MLB Rule Changes: Takeaways on pitch clock, bigger bases, more

At the beginning of the season, the implementation of new rule changes dominated the discussion surrounding baseball.

For the first time ever there’s a ballpark clock — probably the most controversial of all the changes, although some MLB players are starting to appreciate it a month into the season — and bigger bases went viral on social media because they were compared to pizza boxes. Movement is also eliminated and limits the number of times a pitcher can come off the rubber.

Now, as the 2023 regular season comes to a close and prepares for the first MLB postseason since the new rules took effect, the impact of these changes on the game of baseball itself is becoming clear.

Game time has decreased and all the things that make baseball fun have increased. With the season 97% complete, the batting average is up 6 points (.249) from 2022, the batting average in games is up 7 points (.297), and the on-base percentage is up 8 points (.320). We’ve also seen an increase in points per game (from 8.6 last season to 9.3 in 2023) and stolen base attempts (from 1.4 to 1.8). On top of that, average attendance rose 9.15%, the league’s largest one-year increase in 30 years, according to MLB data.

Now that we almost have a full 162-game slate to choose from, we asked ESPN MLB experts Buster Olney, Jesse Rogers and Alden Gonzalez to share their thoughts on the rule changes — from what they’re hearing from players and coaches to a Rule changes they think may be coming next in baseball.


What’s one statistic or number that best sums up the impact of this year’s rule changes?

Olney: twenty four. That’s a reduction in minutes from average game time, which is a huge change. Although there are still nine innings and 54 outs, the game time is 15% shorter than in the past. Fan reaction to the new product is clear from audience numbers and TV ratings.

Rogers: Some would argue the answer is game time, but that doesn’t take away from the on-field product. Last year, the Texas Rangers led the major leagues in stolen bases with 128. Nine teams have already stolen more bases than that number this season, and two more teams could surpass that number. The interception success rate is 80.2% Set a record in game history.

Gonzalez: The increase in base-stealing frequency is a good measure because it’s the product of several new rules – larger bases, disengagement limits, and to some extent, tone clocking.Major League Baseball famous In 2023, stolen base attempts per game will increase from 1.4 in 2022 to 1.8. If you think that’s not a lot, it is. Of course, fans want the games to be shorter and faster-paced. But in recent years, the stolen base has really been a blank slate. It’s all back now, which is a really good thing.


What do you hear most about rule changes from players and coaches?

Olney: Some players and coaches – mostly old guys – have quietly complained about some of the new rules, especially the game clock.But the vast majority of people in the industry (players, coaches, managers, referees, club stewards, stadium staff) seem like Variety. Especially the shorter games.

Rogers: Pitchers want to be able to walk out with no one on base without being considered a mound visit. The batter may time out when a runner is on or the bases are empty. Why can’t pitchers?

Gonzalez: I heard complaints from players early in the season about the new rules – pitchers had to juggle pitching time and off limits while also focusing on how to attack the opponent, and hitters needed more time to adjust to the batter’s position. . Box. But pitch clock violations have increased from an average of 0.87 per game in the first 100 games to an average of 0.34 in the last 100 games, according to MLB.com. In other words: Players will adjust.


Who benefits most and who benefits least from the rule changes?

Olney: I think younger fans benefit the most. My 19-year-old sports-mad son is a good focus group for me, and perhaps his experiences this year mirror those of many of his generation. In the past, he wasn’t interested in the idea of ​​sitting through an entire game because he felt the action was lagging. He hates waiting for slow pitchers to get on the mound. But this year, the average game length was comparable to an NBA or hockey game, and he watched the game from start to finish.

The person who benefits the least: the batsman. I think there was a general assumption that position players would get more of a production boost given the shift restrictions, but that really didn’t happen. Until baseball enacts rules that limit the large number of relief pitchers, the offense likely won’t increase significantly.

Rogers: There is no doubt that anyone who has been threatened by a stolen base has benefited greatly. Nico Hoerner jumped from 20 stolen bases in 2022 to over 40 this season. Ha-Seong Kim ranged from 12 to 36 years old. Willy Castro from 9 years old to over 30 years old. Players on the roster set career highs in steals due to larger bases and new discontact rules.

Gonzalez: I’ll throw in another group of people who benefit: left-handed hitters. Not all of them, of course, but shift restrictions prevent teams from implementing extreme shifts against pull-happy lefties. From 2020 to 2022, left-handed hitters posted a .285 batting average. This year it’s 0.295. Corey Seager is expected to benefit greatly from the shift restrictions, and he’s now set to shine at MVP without Shohei Ohtani (another left-handed hitter, by the way).


How much impact will the new rules have on next month’s MLB playoffs?

Olney: For years, we’ve heard complaints that some fans can’t stay up late to watch the entire postseason and World Series games that last until midnight. Well, it’s going to be a different experience. Playoff games will still be longer than the regular season due to extra commercial time — but they won’t always be the 4 1⁄2-hour behemoths we saw this past October. Teams will run the ball more in the playoffs than they did in the regular season, taking advantage of the limitations on catch attempts.

Rogers: Atlanta Braves starter Spencer Strider thinks new rules will impact baseball in October: “The strategy is more important than the effect of the rules. I think it’s because we’re about to have a really big game. Game, everyone is a little too nervous to take some time or visit the mound, especially early in the game. If we had the time to talk about it, we wouldn’t be making this offer.”

Gonzalez: That remains to be seen. Players and some of their agents have spoken a lot about extending or eliminating postseason games, or maybe just playing time in the final innings. Of course, this won’t happen. While I understand the need for continuity, I would hate to see a playoff game decided by a pitch clock violation. It doesn’t matter if this happens occasionally during the 4860 games from April to September. But not October. Hopefully by then players will have adjusted enough to make the issue moot.


What do you think is the one rule change that could happen next in baseball?

Olney: The sport desperately needs to restore the preeminence of starting pitching. This is an important financial issue for the Players Association because, historically, starting pitchers have played a large role in driving the salary cap. For Major League Baseball, it takes daily headlines to sell the sport — something like Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens, Madison Bumgarner vs. Clayton G. Shaw’s game.

A parade of relief pitchers designed to take advantage of a matchup isn’t a compelling product—just like a four-hour game isn’t a compelling product—and the lords of the sport know it. But given that relief pitchers now make up a large portion of the league, making changes in this area will be difficult.

Rogers: Auto pitches and batting still need some polish, so some smaller rules are coming into play, such as runner’s lane to first. This has always been confusing when it comes to interference with runners. The league may adjust the rules so the burden doesn’t fall entirely on the runner, who wasn’t trying to interfere with the play in the first place.

Gonzalez: Comprehensive automatic balls and strikes may still be a long way off, but I can definitely see a challenge system for balls and strikes coming in the near future. It’s a wonderful and happy medium. No matter how you interpret it from social media, the referees will call the vast majority of calls correctly; what we need to eliminate are the glaring mistakes, especially at key points. The challenge system does this while implementing another cool strategic component into the game. It’s also incredibly fast.

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