The Major League Baseball Competition Committee voted this afternoon on new rules that will implemented in the 2023 season. What are we going to see that’s new? Well, there will be no more extreme shifting. There will be a pitch clock to limit how long between pitches a pitcher can hold the ball. And baserunning could look quite different thanks to both a limit on the number of pickoff attempts and larger bases.
No More Shifting
So there is a little bit of shifting that can and will happen, but not like we are used to seeing. The new rules state that the four infielders must all have both feet on the dirt (or infield grass) when the pitch is released and that two infielders must be on each side of the second base bag.
That means no more third baseman standing 75 feet deep into right field. It will very likely open up the right side of the infield for singles on what’s traditionally been a single for 95% of the history of baseball. What probably won’t change is that the single up the middle coming back like it used to. Teams can still put the shortstop or second baseman pretty much right up the middle like they often do now.
The penalty for a violation here is that the hitting team can “re-do” the play with a ball being awarded to the batter or the team can decline the penalty and accept the play as it happened (which may be beneficial in some scenarios such as a play where a run scores even if the batter was out on the play). If a violation occurs and the batter reaches base and the runners who were on base advance then the play lives as it happened.
This new rule may have a slight change in how teams value defensive players at both shortstop and second base as it could make it slightly more difficult to hide less rangy players at these positions.
The Pitch Clock
The pitch clock applies to both hitters and pitchers. Pitchers have 15 seconds between pitches (when there wasn’t contact made on the previous pitch) when no one is on base and they will have 20 seconds between pitches when someone is on base. Hitters must be in the batters box with at least 8 seconds remaining on the pitch clock. A violation will result in a ball being awarded to the batter if the violation is on the pitcher or a strike being awarded to the pitcher if the violation is on the batter.
The Pickoff Limitation
Pitchers are now limited to the number of times they can step off of the rubber. A team gets two “disengagements” from the mound per plate appearance. That includes a pickoff attempt, stepping off of the rubber for any other purpose (non-medical check from trainers, or pitching coach visits), or a defensive time request (such as when the outfielder is attacked by bees). If a pitcher attempts a pickoff for a third disengagement and does not succeed in picking off the runner, that’s when the penalty occurs (the play is then ruled as a balk).
This will probably lead to more stolen base attempts and probably a higher success rate, too.
Bases are currently 15 inches. Next season they will be 18 inches. What this does is two things – first, it gives fielders slightly more wiggle room on plays at the bag to avoid contact with baserunners. But it’s also decreasing the distance between the bases by 6 inches. That could lead to a few more stolen bases.
The Players portion on the competition committee chose to vote against eliminating the shift as well as the pitch clock. Here is the statement from the MLBPA:
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 feedbacks 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.
What the release did not get into was what the changes that they proposed in those areas would be. It simply states that they had different ideas in those areas that MLB didn’t want to really move onto.