MLB approves significant rule changes, including pitch clock, ban on defensive formations

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Major League Baseball approved a sweeping set of rule changes that it hopes will fundamentally change the game, voting Friday to implement a pitch clock and ban defensive special formations in 2023 to speed up the pace of play and increase the action.

The league’s competition committee, made up of six property-level representatives, four players and an umpire, approved a pitch clock of 15 seconds with empty bases and 20 seconds with runners, a defensive lineup that must include two fielders on each side of the second base bag with both feet on the ground, as well as rules that limit moves to surprise baserunners and expand the size of bases.

The vote was not unanimous. Player representatives voted no on the pitch clock and change portions of special formations.

The pitch clock, which has long been tested in the minor leagues, when strictly enforced, has significantly sped up the speed of games. Minor league games this season have consistently seen times under 2 hours and 30 minutes, a length many consider ideal, and average game times have settled a bit above.

The rule is strict: the catcher must be in position when the timer hits 10 seconds, the batter must have both feet in the batter’s box and be “on the lookout” at the 8-second mark, and the pitcher must start his ” movement to shoot” by the expiration of the clock. A violation by the pitcher is an automatic ball. One by the batter constitutes an automatic strike.

The ban on special formations on defense, once a fringe strategy that has now become the norm and bane of left-handed hitters, is among the most extreme versions, as it prevents defensive players from move in multiple directions. With all four infielders needing to be in the dirt, the days of the four-outfield setup will be over. Even more pertinently, shifting an infielder to play short in right field, or simply moving three infielders to the right side of the second-base bag, will no longer be legal.

The position of defensive players may be reviewed, and if a defensive formation is deemed illegal, the batting team may choose to accept the result of the play or take an automatic ball instead.

By limiting disengagements from the mound, whether through a move to catch the runner or take their foot off the pitcher’s rubber, the rules hold accountable pitchers who otherwise have an alternative solution to the pitch clock, and stolen bases are likely to increase significantly, part of the action the league intended to increase.

The moves to surprise runners and to take the foot off the pitcher’s rubber reset the pitch clock, and the rules will limit pitchers to two of those moves per plate appearance. (The number would reset if a runner advances.) A pitcher may attempt a third interception, but if he is unsuccessful, it will be a balk, allowing runners to advance one base.

In a statement Friday, the Major League Baseball Players Association explained why players on the competition committee voted unanimously against implementing the pitch clock and banning special formations.

“Player leaders from across the league participated in the on-field rules negotiations through the Competition Committee and provided specific, actionable feedback on the changes proposed by the Commissioner’s Office,” the statement read. “Major League Baseball was unwilling to meaningfully address the areas of concern raised by the players and, as a result, the players on the Competition Committee voted unanimously against implementing the rules covering defensive changes and the use of of the pitch clock.

Bases, meanwhile, will increase from 15 to 18 square inches, with the expectation that the larger size will allow for fewer collisions around the bag and slightly shorten the distance between bases.

Additionally, teams will be awarded an additional visit to the mound in the ninth inning if they have exhausted their five allotted visits. If a team still has visits left, they will not receive an extra one.

Prior to 2022, rule changes were solely the purview of the league, which could implement changes on the field a year after informing players that it planned to change a rule. As part of the new collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association, the timeline for the rule’s implementation was accelerated to 45 days and included the creation of the competition committee, in which the players would participate.

The committee includes Seattle owner John Stanton, St. Louis owner Bill DeWitt, Boston owner Tom Werner, San Francisco owner Greg Johnson, Colorado owner Dick Monfort, Toronto president , Mark Shapiro, to Tampa Bay pitcher, Tyler Glasnow, to St. Louis pitcher Jack. Flaherty, Toronto’s utility player Whit Merrifieldthe San Francisco outfielder austin slater and referee Bill Miller.