Same Old Ballgame? Nope.

New rules add life to America’s Pastime

Baseball has been one of my favorite sports for as long as I can remember, I grew up around it and I’ve always been captivated by the strategic aspects of the game. Seeing how versatile games can be, never really knowing what will happen until the last inning, and not having a clock make baseball special. 

I appreciate that even though the offense scores a run, the ball doesn’t automatically go to the other team like basketball or football. Winning teams are forced to play out the game and can’t manipulate plays so time runs out which is something we don’t experience in other sports.

Fans and non-fans alike have been complaining about the pace of play and lack of offense recently, so MLB decided it was time to make some changes and introduced three major rules: a pitch timer, limits on defensive shifts, and bigger bases. 

According to ESPN, games averaged over three hours per game in the spring of 2022. Pitchers throwing to first to keep the runner close, batters waiting for the pitchers to get signs, pitchers waiting for the batters to get in the box, all contributed to dragging on the game. The new pitch timer limits pitchers to a 15-second timer with the bases empty or  20-seconds with runners on base, and a 30-second timer between batters. So far in the season, I’ve noticed pitchers are sacrificing their accuracy for speed, as well as an increase in the amount of balls pitchers are giving away, but it has helped the pace of play as the average length of a game is 2 hours, 36 minutes

Looking to increase offensive plays, defensive shifts were eliminated, they cut down on hits and increased strikeouts which tend to make games a bore. The rule limiting defensive shifts makes it illegal for infielders to overshift to one side of the field or stand on the outfield grass.

I feel that limiting defensive shifts contradicts a fundamental strategic aspect of Baseball, ultimately teams should be allowed to use strategic tactics they deem necessary on the field to win. This change felt very drastic, but its purpose was to drive more singles during plays and increase batting average which we are seeing. According to a recent Forbes article in 2022, batting average on line drives had a .641 AVG – .817 SLG, this 2023 season we’re seeing a .668 AVG – .866 SLG, which is a major one-year turnaround.

Increasing the size of bases to 18” from the traditional 15” is another rule change intended to speed up games and lead to higher-scores throughout games. I feel that the three inch difference doesn’t feel like it would change the pace as much as the other rules. I sense that the difference will make it less demanding for runners and would increase steals, but I’m sure that the bigger bases will increase offense which is the essential goal. 

In a CBS article, Matt Shnyder says “Stolen bases are exciting and if the bigger bases can get the successful steals back up, that’s a decent amount of extra fun.” I agree that stolen bases are an exhilarating part of the game that really captivates viewers, it can also be a make or break moment especially in the last innings. The pitch timer also seems to be affecting the amount of steals per game, in a recent article ESPN has stated that there has been a 30% spike in stolen bases so far in the season as a result of the pitch timer. 

All the changes seem to really focus on advancing offense making the game more entertaining and engaging.  Baseball America showed that in 2022, the average game time was 3:11 for opening day games, in 2023 they lasted 2:35 – a 26 minute difference. The biggest factor speeding up the games are definitely the pitch timer and eliminating defensive shifts, the bigger bases don’t seem to be affecting the time as much but contribute to the spike in stolen bases.

I’m excited to see how these changes play out through the season, along with an  increase in offense. I personally never realized how long baseball games were before doing research on it, but honestly I didn’t care. For me, games ended when they ended. I always felt that the beauty of baseball was that there was no time limit, players had to really think strategically and watching the different plays whether offense or defense is what really captivates me as a fan. 

Watching games this season is definitely different. I’m learning to appreciate the new changes and trying not to expect players to make plays they can’t this season. Pace of play doesn’t really feel different, when first hearing of the new rules I was expecting games to be rushed but so far they aren’t, just shorter which I appreciate. In the recent games I’ve watched, it was strange not seeing players on the outfield or pitchers not throwing to bases to keep runners close as often. I’m seeing hitters strike out more because they can’t really throw the pitcher off by stepping out the box or calling timeouts. The pros outweigh the cons so far in the season, but the World Series will definitely be something I’m very excited to tune in this season.