Opening Day: Major League Baseball is back, with new rules

  • Major Leauge Baseball is back with a couple of rule changes
  • Hall of Famer Johnny Bench expects "a lot of late-inning drama"
  • Fans won't want to leave their seats, according to a Cub executive

CHICAGO (NewsNation) — It’s Opening Day, which means baseball is back for another year of home runs, strikeouts and spectacular fielding gems. And with the new season come some new rules.

This year will see the introduction of a few significant rule changes that may catch you off guard at first. MLB announced the three rule changes in September.

“These steps are designed to improve pace of play, increase action and reduce injuries, all of which are goals that have overwhelming support among our fans,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said.

The changes include adding a pitch timer, implementing defensive shift restrictions and introducing bigger bases.

Pitch timer

In an effort to speed up the game, the new Joint Competition Committee voted to add a pitch clock aimed at reducing downtime and thereby improving the pace of play for the 2023 season.

The pitcher will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch to a batter with no runners on base. That increases to 20 seconds when runners are on base.

With the pitch timer change, pitchers will get only two disengagements per batter, which means that, per at-bat, they can make pickoff attempts or step off the pitching mound only twice total. Violations will result in a balk call.

The average MLB game last season clocked in at just over three hours, according to data by Statista. MLB said that a pitch timer in the minor leagues last year reduced the game length by at least 25 minutes. And in spring training this year, game times dropped an average of 23 minutes.

Defensive shift restrictions

MLB wants to give batters the chance to increase their batting averages on balls in play, as well as let players in the field showcase their defensive skills.

The new restrictions aim to ensure that each infield player is playing their designated position. Players will not be able to make any dramatic shift changes in reaction to the batter’s hitting patterns, as defenses must have three players remain in the outfield, with four players patrolling the infield, two on either side of second base.

Bigger bases

MLB has increased the size of first, second and third bases by three inches to an 18-inch-by-18-inch square. The league is hoping this will encourage players to attempt more stolen bases.

The bigger bases are also expected to have a “positive impact” on player safety.

Bigger bases also mean a slightly shorter distance between the bases.

According to MLB, the change in size reduced injury events near the bases by more than 3% in the minors last season.

“I love a lot of it,” Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, a former Cincinnati Reds catcher, said on “Morning in America” about the rule changes. “I love the quick pitch. I love the fact that there’s a pitch clock. I love the fact that it’s going to be over faster and everything else. There’s more action every day.”

Bench, however, said there’s a conspiracy against catchers, and that the changes are going to encourage more stolen bases and diminish the catcher’s ability to get those runners out. He said he expects a lot of late-inning drama.

Bench was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989, after playing in 2,158 games over 17 seasons. He was the National League MVP in 1970 and 1972, as well as a two-time World Series champ and World Series MVP in 1976.

“I love the no-shift thing. I think you’re going to see more offense. I think batting averages will go up 10 points for a lot people,” Bench said.

Crane Kenney, president of business operations with the Chicago Cubs, said MLB has done a really good job of addressing some of the issues it faced.

“Growing up at my age, I remember 2 1/2-hour games as sort of the standard for baseball. With so much analytics in the game right now, and so much work done outside of the game to predict what’s going to happen, the game just slowed down,” Kenney said.

“I think our fans are gonna see more action on the field,” he added. “They won’t want to leave their seats quite so frequently. And that’s great for us.”

All 30 teams are scheduled to play their first games of the season on the same day, Thursday, for the first time since 1968 in an effort to feature hours of nonstop baseball.

And the pressure to repeat will be on the Houston Astros, who won the 2022 World Series last fall.


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