Change is coming to the major leagues! On Friday, Major League Baseball's competition committee voted to implement rule changes that will begin in 2023. All of these rules have been in place in the minor leagues over the previous seasons, leading to wide-ranging changes in pace of play and on-field action.
The rules include a first-ever pitch clock, the elimination of the shift, bigger bases and a limit to how many times a pitcher can disengage from the rubber. Here's everything you need to know about the new rules, what they'll mean for the players and how the game is likely to change.
The new rule: At the time a pitch is thrown, there will need to be four infielders on the dirt and two on each side of second base. Players will be able to move as soon as the ball leaves the pitcher's hand.
How it will be enforced: If the hitting team reaches base and runners advance on a ball hit under the violation, the game proceeds without penalties. If the play has any other consequence -- an out, a sacrifice, etc. -- the hitting team can decide either to accept the penalty -- which would add one ball to the hitter's count -- or decline it, and the play would stand.
What they're trying to change: The leaguewide batting average is down to .243 this season, the lowest since 1968. A lack of singles in particular is at the heart of the decline, with this year's rate of 5.35 per team the fourth-lowest in MLB history -- and the 2021, 2020 and 2019 seasons filling the three spots ahead of this year on the all-time list.
What it's meant in the minors: During the first two months of this minor league season, in the lower levels of the minors where shifts are regulated, the batting average on balls in play by left-handed hitters rose by eight points. At Triple-A -- where shifts are not banned -- it was up only three points.
What players are saying: It would be hard to find a hitter -- especially a left-handed one -- who isn't on board with eliminating the shift.
"Growing up, we never had that," Dodgers outfielder Joey Gallo said earlier this season. "It's tough to adjust to it because it wasn't a thing in the minors. ... Over time, it's gotten more extreme and more effective. From a hitter's standpoint, it's something that could be changed."
Perhaps surprisingly, some pitchers are onboard with the move, as well.
The new rule: Pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch with the bases empty and 20 seconds with a runner on base. Hitters will need to be in the batter's box with eight seconds on the pitch clock.
How it will be enforced: If a pitcher has not started "the motion to deliver a pitch" before the expiration of the clock, he will be charged with a ball. If a batter delays entering the box, he will be charged with a strike.
What they're trying to change: The average time of a nine-inning major league game in 2022 is 3 hours, 4 minutes, which is actually a six-minute decline from last year's all-time high -- but the time of game has been rising consistently since first crossing the 3-hour mark in 2014.
While it is not directly correlated, Statcast's pitch tempo tracker shows 108 pitchers have averaged at least 20 seconds per pitch with the bases empty this season -- led by Atlanta Braves closer Kenley Jansen at 26.1 seconds between pitches.
What it's meant in the minors: When stricter pitch clock enforcement -- based on a 14-second clock with the bases empty and an 18-second clock with runners on -- began in the minors earlier this season, the results were immediate. Over the first 132 minor league games under the new rules, the average game time was 2 hours, 39 minutes. That's 20 minutes shorter than the average time of a control set of 335 games run without the clock to begin the season (2 hours, 59 minutes) and 24 minutes shorter than the average of the 2021 season (3 hours, 3 minutes average).
What players are saying: There's been mixed reactions to the pitch clock, with veteran relievers worried about rushing through high-leverage situations. But many young players who have spent time in the minors during the past couple of seasons are already used to it. In addition to the new pickoff rules, which are tied to the pitch clock, this is bound to create the most debate among players.
The new rule: Pickoffs are now considered one version of "disengagements," which consist of any time that the pitcher makes a pickoff attempt, fakes a pickoff, or steps off the rubber, as well as when the defense requests time. Pitchers are allowed two disengagements per plate appearance without penalty.
How it will be enforced: After a third step-off, the pitcher will be charged with a balk, unless at least one offensive player advances a base.
What they're trying to change: A lack of action on the basepaths has been a concern of MLB's in recent attempts to improve the aesthetics of the sport, with stolen bases per team down to 0.51 per game in 2022 from 0.66 a decade ago. (In the 1980s and 1990s, stolen base rates hovered around the 0.75 range.)
What it's meant in the minors: In 2021, when the pickoff rules went into effect in Single-A and High-A, stolen base attempts skyrocketed. This year, as the rules expanded to every league, baseball is seeing big gains throughout the minors, though slightly less drastic spikes. According to MLB.com, the stolen base attempts rate in the minors is up to 2.85 attempts per game so far this year -- no team in the majors last year even averaged one.
The new rule: Bases will be increased from 15 inches to 18 inches.
What they're trying to change: The increase in the size of the bases should reduce injuries around them while increasing stolen base attempts.
What it's meant in the minors: In Triple-A, the first season of larger bases didn't make much of a change on its own -- but in the lower levels, bigger bases combined with rules about pickoffs saw large increases in steals per nine innings. Even combined with the disengagement rules, though, MLB doesn't believe either change will lead to teams being unable to control the run game.