OT: How MLB’s new rules are impacting the game

Dodgers’ catcher Will Smith and the newly implemented pitch clock. Photo courtesy of Morry Gash/Associated Press. 

BENNY FRUIT | SPORTS REPORTER | bfruit@butler.edu 

Overtime, or “OT,” is an opinion column series where the Collegian takes national sports headlines or polarizing topics and gives them a Butler-centric angle. 

On Sept. 9, 2022, Major League Baseball’s Joint Competition Committee voted in favor of three significant rule changes in hopes of improving both the pace of play and player safety within the sport. These regulations have now been implemented, and after just two weekends of games, MLB fans have already seen the impact of the new rules. 

The change that was most polarizing throughout the offseason was the addition of a pitch clock. Starting this year, pitchers will have 15 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on. An automatic ball is awarded if the timer goes off and a pitch has not been thrown yet. The same applies to hitters as well. If the hitter is not alert to the pitcher by the eight-second mark, an automatic strike is handed out. 

The impact of this new rule has been the most visible of all the changes. According to MLB insider Jeff Passan, last year’s average game length was three hours and nine minutes, while this year, it has only taken an average of two hours and 38 minutes for the completion of games. The shortest game over the first weekend was a 2-0 Guardians win over the Mariners that lasted a mere two hours and four minutes. Games like this will almost certainly be a common theme in MLB as the season progresses. 

Baseball has always been known as a slower-paced sport, which is why many have fallen in love with it. However, for Ross Hollebon, an adjunct professor within the College of Communications, the pitch clock has only grown his love for the game. 

“Baseball, especially American League baseball for me, just got to the point where there was so much gamesmanship there that it slowed down the action,” Hollebon said. “And now they’ve been able to go speed things up again. The pitch clock [is] doing that.” 

For others, the pitch clock has taken away an aspect of baseball they had previously enjoyed. First-year business major Morgan Buss is not a fan of the new addition.

“I think that the nature of the game has [been] kind of ruined because baseball was the only sport without a time restraint, and now I think that factor of the game is taken away,” Buss said.

The second rule change that MLB implemented this year is that bases will now be larger. Traditionally, bases have been 15 square inches, whereas now they will be 18 square inches. This rule change’s impact has been apparent as well. 

As a result of the bigger bases, combined with the fact that pitchers can now only attempt a pickoff twice per at bat, players are attempting to steal more bases and have been overwhelmingly successful. According to MLB insider Jeff Passan, through the first four games of last year, players across the league attempted 43 stolen bases and stole 29 bases for a success rate of 67.4%. This year, however, players tried to steal 84 times through four games and stole 70 bases for a success rate of 83.3%. 

Surprisingly, this increase has not had a noticeable impact on the number of runs being scored. According to nbcsports.com, games saw an average of 8.56 runs per game throughout the 2022 season, while the first four games this season saw only 8.42 runs per game. Even though more stolen bases have not yet led to more runs being scored, the action it has added to the sport is undeniable. 

The final significant addition to this season was the new defensive shift limits. Teams can no longer put defensive players wherever they want, as all four infielders must have their feet within the outer boundary of the infield – and players cannot switch sides of the infield. For example, teams cannot place their third baseman in short right field between the first and second baseman. 

The results of this change have not been as clear as some of the others. Infielder Corey Seager and outfielder Max Kepler lost the most hits due to the shift since 2020, so theoretically, both players should have performed well during the first weekend. This has been the case for Seager, who went four for 11 at the plate during the Rangers’ series against the Phillies. However, Kepler did not find the same success, as he went hitless in 13 at-bats in his first three games. 

As a whole, hitting has improved, as the league-wide batting average increased by 15 points through the first four games compared to last year, going from .230 to .245. However, looking at other leagues that have already played complete seasons with the limits, it is hard to say whether or not this increase in offense is a direct result of the shift ban. 

MLB’s Double-A level has already had these limits in place for two seasons, and not much has changed. Before these changes were implemented in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, players’ Batting Average on Balls in Play were .309 and .305, respectively. The rule was then put in place for the 2021 season, and players had a BABIP of .308, showing the minimal impact these limitations will likely have on hitting at the major league level. 

Due to its limited impact thus far, it does not seem like there are many people within the baseball community that are opposed to the shift limits. First-year sports media major Cooper Garland said he thinks the new rule will bring a different energy to the game. 

“I’m [wasn’t] a huge fan of the shift,” Garland said. “I also kind of think it wastes time. [The shift limit] makes the game more offensive which I think that’s what this whole season was about.” 

Whether MLB fans like it or not, baseball is changing. The games are shorter, offense and stolen bases are up and the idea of a defensive shift is becoming a thing of the past. Personally, I’ve enjoyed the new rules thus far. Maybe my opinion will change once I watch a game in person and only get to spend a couple hours at the ballpark, but the added action that has been on display this year has been a welcome change to a game that I already loved. 

Some miss the long, low-scoring pitching duels that lasted well over three hours, while others are enjoying the higher-paced, straight-to-business game they have been given so far this year. Either way, it looks like these rule changes are here to stay. 


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