Major League Baseball is seeking to up the ante on action this season with new rules aimed at generating excitement and shortening the average length of games.
The rule changes include tightening the length of time between pitches (known as “pitch tempo), reining in the length of at-bats, shortening the base paths and enlarging the bases.
MLB hopes the rule changes will enhance and modernize the game as both a stadium and television attraction, and in the process, make it more competitive with other major sports such as NFL football and NBA basketball.
Those two attractions, particularly pro football, have stolen baseball’s thunder for years. While baseball is sometimes still referred to as “America’s pastime,” the NFL is the rightful owner of that description today.
Last season, the average length of a Major League Baseball game was three hours, three minutes. In 2021, it was three hours and 10 minutes.
The last time the length was under three hours was the 2015 season.
The games run particularly long during the MLB playoffs and World Series in the fall. Fans and TV columnists have complained about this for years.
Prime-time games often run until midnight or later. This disappoints baseball fans faced with the choice of bailing early on the games in order to get sufficient sleep for the workday ahead, or staying up until the end of the game and then sleepwalking through their workday.
The problems with the late games are especially acute for children who represent future generations of baseball fans. They cannot possibly stay up until midnight on school nights.
Let it also be said that the longer games mean more commercial availabilities. One commentator writing on October 13, 2021 midway through the playoffs noted that the average length of the 17 games played up to that date was three hours and 40 minutes.
He noted that some of the increased length was due to extra commercial increases, but even without them, the games would still have been longer than regular-season games that season by about 15 minutes.
To shorten the games, MLB has instituted the following new rules, which are already in use now in spring training.
The changes involve new rules on pitching and batting times.
Pitchers will now have to get each of their pitches off in 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on.
On an online chart of pitching times for 214 of last season’s pitchers, the fastest-working pitcher in 2022 was Jesse Chavez of the Atlanta Braves, whose average tempo between pitches was 13.7 seconds with the bases empty and 19.1 seconds with runners on.
The slowest-working was Jake Diekman of the Chicago White Sox, with 23.6 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 26.6 seconds with men on.
Under the new scenario, pitchers will have to form the habit of watching a newly installed “pitch clock” in much the same way that NBA players watch the 24-second shot clock.
On the batter’s side, stepping out of the batter’s box and taking a time-out to stand around is being reduced to just one such time-out per at-bat.
And the batter is required to step back into the batter’s box with eight seconds left in this one time-out.
In addition, pitchers can have only two pick-off attempts or step-offs (when they simply fake a throw to catch a runner leading off base) during each at-bat. Violations will be ruled as balks.
The MLB notes on its web site that the new rules have already been in place in the minor leagues with the desired results.
On the subject of increasing the excitement of games, limits on pick-off attempts led to a 26% increase in stolen base attempts in the minors.
The new pitch clock reduced minor-league game lengths by 25 minutes, MLB said.
Other rule changes are aimed more at boosting the game’s excitement level and reducing injuries.
Under the new rules, the base paths are being shortened ever so slightly -- by 3 inches between Home and First and Home and Third, and 4.5 inches between First and Second and Second and Third.
At the same time, the bases themselves are being enlarged from 15 inches on each side to 18 inches. MLB says the bigger bases were responsible for a 13% reduction in base-running-related injuries in the minors.
The new rules also impose restrictions on infield shifts. Under the new rules, two infielders must be positioned on either side of second base when a pitch is released. The rule basically puts limits on the way infielders can be moved around for certain batters.
In addition, infielders are not allowed to drift into the near outfield. All four infielders are now required to have both feet within the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.
MLB says the shift restrictions resulted in higher batting averages and decreased strikeouts in the minors. They also will “give players more opportunity to show off their athleticism,” MLB says.
That sounds like a better experience for fans in the stadiums and TV viewers at home.
Photo courtesy of MLB.com.
That is a good thing MLB needed to shorten the game. I know the purist of the game doesn't like the new rules I think most MLB fans will embrace the rule changes in my opinion. NFL is the national pastime, not MLB. I just largely have MLB in the background while on the computer.