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Everything You Need to Know About MLB’s Rule Changes

Answering all of the questions behind the league’s efforts to improve pace of play next season.

For nearly two decades baseball games have been getting longer with less action. Baseball finally is taking meaningful steps not just to end the trend but also reverse it: more action in less time.

The MLB Competition Committee is expected Friday to adopt three rule changes starting in 2023: a pitch timer to improve pace of play, a ban on shifts to restore offense and athleticism, and bigger bases to encourage stolen bases. All rule changes have worked to their intended effect in minor league trials.

The rules are not about reinventing baseball. They are about restoring it—restoring the game to levels of pace, balls in play and athleticism that were common 20, 30 and 40 years ago.

Here’s everything you need to know about how we got here and what the changes mean for a whole new ballgame.

Why the action on rule changes now?

Owners wanted a more streamlined way to enact rule changes. As part of the past labor negotiations, players agreed to be represented on the competition committee and provide feedback, though owners and umpires represent the majority.

How bad is the pace of play problem?

The average time of game last season was 3:11, an all-time worst. It is 3:07 this year.

The last time it was less than 2:50 was in 2003. The added length is not because more action is taking place. The 21 minutes added in 18 years is entirely due to dead time.

How much of a difference will the pitch timer make?

The minor leagues cut the average game time by 26 minutes with the pitch timer. The minors used a clock of 14 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 19 seconds with runners. Those numbers next season in the majors will be 15 and 20.

A 20-minute reduction in average game time will return baseball to an average time not seen since 1985.

Will pitchers complain?

Sure, especially the older ones. For a bit. Put it this way: Kenley Jansen takes 26.1 seconds between every pitch with nobody on base. That’s ridiculous. He is one of 363 pitchers who take more than the 15 seconds that are allotted next season. Next year they are on the clock.

Remember, most pitchers came up using the pitch timer in the minors. They are using all this extra time now in the majors because they can.

As for complaints, see the arc of acceptance of the slide rule at second base and the anti-collision protocols at the plate. The transition is rather quick.

Here’s what Matt Carpenter said after starting this season in the minors with the pitch clock: “Initially, I hated it. I grew into liking it a lot—to the point where I would fully endorse it in the major league game. The big selling point is that the pace of the game is way better. It just is.”

Will pitchers get hurt working faster?

The data from the minors says no. Pitcher injuries fell 26% this year with the pitch timer, according to MLB figures obtained by Sports Illustrated. Position player injuries fell 8%.

Meanwhile, the strikeout rate declined slightly.

Player input did lead to some tweaks in the major league proposal, including an additional second from the minor league limits, allowing the pitcher to step off another two times upon advancement by the runner, and a bonus mound visit in the ninth inning (if a team has exhausted its supply) to buy time for a pitcher to regroup in a big moment.

Is time of game the most important issue?

No. It’s pace of action. As information in the game grew, baseball became a risk-averse game in which most development favored run prevention. These rules are an attempt to re-balance the offense/defense equation. 

For instance, in 1985 a ball was put in play every two minutes, 50 seconds. Last year you had to wait four minutes, two seconds. From ’92 to 2022 the time between balls in play grew 22%. This trend of the wait between balls in play—going in one direction—matters more than average time of game:

Balls in PlayMinutesMinutes/BIP





























Why ban shifts?

They work. They take hits away. Especially hard-hit balls.

Starting next year, no more right field rover turning a 200-foot line drive single into a bastardized “4–3” putout. No more four-man outfields turning doubles in the gap into outs. (The rate of doubles and triples is down 12% in the past 13 years).

Shifts began as a competitive advantage. Intellect was rewarded. But with widespread acceptance, they became a nuisance and a drag on the game. In just the past four years, shifts have doubled, while the batting average on hard-hit grounders dropped 32 points:

Shift UseBA on GBBA on GB 86+ mph

































Give me an example of guys hurt by the proliferation of shifts.

Uh, everybody? Let’s take two stars, Joey Votto and Mookie Betts:


Shift FrequencyBA on GB








Shift FrequencyBA on GB







When you can’t get a hit on the ground, you try to hit over the shift. And when you add loft to your swing, you accept more strikeouts.

What will banning the shift mean for building a team?

A premium on middle-infield athleticism. No more signing Mike Moustakas to play second base. Infielders with range suddenly have value.

Ozzie Smith made six plays per game for the 1982 Cardinals. Nico Hoerner, the Defensive Saves leader at shortstop this year, makes 3.7.

What will bigger bases do?

If baseball is a game of inches, they will encourage stolen bases. The distance between first and second and second and third will be 4 ½ inches shorter. Steal attempts in the minors went up 27% since 2019 with the bigger bases.

A similar boost in the majors would increase steal attempts to a level not seen since 2001.

The last time baseball saw 1.5 steals per game was 1992, when exciting players such as Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines and Marquis Grissom were among 18 players with 40 steals. Last year there were two.

Bigger bases could also reduce collisions and injuries around the bag. Base-related injuries went down 13% in the minors.

What’s next?

There are no definitive plans yet in the majors for the Automated Ball/Strike system, in which the umpire announces how laser-guided technology defines the pitch. Expectations are that a transitional phase—the replay challenge system—could be used as soon as 2024. That system, which is earning rave reviews in the minors, allows the pitcher, batter or catcher limited and immediate challenges to an umpire’s ball/strike call through technology—similar in style and brevity to the Hawkeye challenge system used in tennis.

The purpose (like replay on the bases) is not to challenge every pitch but to challenge only the high-leverage calls.

Wasn’t the best thing about baseball was that it lacked a clock?

No. The best thing about baseball is that a team’s chances of winning are not constrained by a clock. Teams run out of time in other sports. Teams with a lead can “run out the clock.” In baseball you always have a chance as long as you have even one out left. You bat until you make that last out. A pitch timer doesn’t change that beauty.

Are these rule changes really necessary?

Yes. Baseball has talked about the problem of pace of action for more than a decade and done little meaningful about. These steps are a real attempt to keep baseball competitive in an entertainment marketplace that demands action quickly.

The old method of less action over more time was eroding baseball’s fan base. From 2007, the height of attendance, to ‘19, the last pre-COVID-19 season, baseball lost almost 11 million paid customers.

Imagine a game that takes 2 hours 45 minutes to play instead of 3:07, with 56 balls in play instead of 49, with 15 seconds between pitches instead of 19, with more hits, more doubles in the gap, more stolen base attempts, more fielders showing off extraordinary range … that’s not some crazy dream or a gimmick-driven game. That’s baseball from 20 to 30 years ago. That could be what baseball looks like again as soon as next season.

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