There are baseball purists who will try to tell you that all change is bad. But those who have spent most of their lives watching baseball recognize that while the basic concept has remained the same for over 100 years, baseball itself is a sport that evolves over time. Change is a constant, and sometimes those changes are good, while other times they may be a hindrance to the sport that we know and love.
Changes happen all the time. Remember it wasn’t that long ago that everyone was up in arms over eliminating the need to throw four pitches to intentionally walk a batter, and now I don’t think most of us notice the difference.
2023 saw some interesting changes to the way baseball is played, and more specifically to how it is timed, and the result was games that moved at a nice steady clip, ending almost thirty minutes earlier than in previous years. For some this was probably a bummer—certainly beer salesmen felt the pinch—but for others, it created a more engaging and easy-to-consume game package.
Let’s take a look at what rules changed in 2023 and how they ultimately impacted the game.
The Pitch Clock
The biggest part of speeding up the pace of play was the introduction of the pitch clock, something that was initially tested with great success in MiLB games, and had a tremendously positive impact on MLB games. At its simplest, the rule (or actually a very dense set of rules) is intended to keep the pitcher from wasting too much time between batters. In addition to limiting throws to first, it rule is that there is a 30-second timer between batters. Between pitches, this time is reduced to 15 seconds with the bases empty and a 20-seconds with runners on base.
So how has it helped?
In 2022 the average time of a regular season, nine-inning game was 3 hours and 3 minutes. In 2023 the average was 2 hours 39 minutes. That is almost entirely attributed to the pitch clock.
Banning the Shift
This was a fairly controversial one at its inception. The ultimate goal of this rule was to increase batting averages based on balls in play (with more balls in play, more action is theoretically happening on the field, creating a more engaging game to watch).
Banning the shift basically limits the opportunity for teams to overcompensate their defense in hot zones against batters. It says that all four infielders must be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber, and also prohibits switching sides for infielders, meaning teams couldn’t move a strong shortstop beyond to the second base position, etc.
How has it helped?
“Help” might not be the word, but it did create more on-field action. League batting average on balls in play improved from .290 in 2022 to .297 in 2023. Runs increased from an average of 8.6 per game in 2022 to 9.2.
Along with the pitch clock and limiting defensive shifts, the size of the bases increased as well. The power combo of bigger bases, defense being forced to limit their positional changes, and pitchers not being able to throw to first as often saw one pretty impressive change: steals.
Stolen base numbers went way up. Attempts were up from 1.4 per game to 1.8, successful attempts increased from 75.4% to 80.2% and I don’t know about you but that does make for more interesting baseball to watch.
Ultimately the rule changes have brought us shorter, faster games, with more action happening on our screens or in front of us on the stadium grass. More contact being converted to hits, more stolen base attempts being successful, and one major shift: more fans in seats.
MLB attendance broke the 70,000,000 mark for the first time since 2017 (obviously excluding COVID-impacted seasons), and saw an increase of almost 6,000,000 fans in seats over last year. Whether it’s due to people being more willing to go to large-scale events, or it being easier to bring a family to a shorter game, or an increase in the action happening on field bringing more people to watch, something is working.
But new rules are never universally loved, so let us know below what your opinion is on the new rules, and if you’re a fan or not.