In a world of fast-paced competitions, baseball has held its ground as the slow-burn game. The earliest known mention of the game in America was in the late 1700s. But as life outside the park picks up speed, some fans say they would trade some aspects of baseball’s leisurely (and some say, intelligent) game for a little more excitement. So, Major League Baseball literally stepped up to the plate. It’s addressing those demands, for love of the game. What’s changing at the ballpark? This year, six new rules were implemented into big league games.
Runner On Second
If a game goes into extra innings, teams can now start a runner on second base. Known by some as the “Ghost Runner” and by others as the “Manfred Man” after baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, this player will be waiting on second base when the first hitter in extra innings comes up to bat.
This should help teams score more quickly and reduce the number of extra innings played.
Position Players as Pitchers
A position player is someone who plays any infield or outfield spot other than pitcher. But sometimes a coach will call a position player to the mound in extra innings to relieve a tired pitcher after the demands of a long game. Last year, a position player could pitch in extra innings if six or more runs separated the two teams’ scores. The new rules say position players can pitch in extra innings only when the player’s team is losing by eight or more runs or is winning by 10 or more runs in the ninth inning. (Baseball has always loved its math!)
The Pitch Clock
Move it along, pitcher! A pitch clock is now used to limit time between pitches. The clock is set at 15 seconds when there are no runners on base and 20 seconds with runners on base. If a pitcher hasn’t started his pitch before the countdown ends, it’s an automatic ball for the batter. Batters will also need to be in the batter’s box before eight seconds are left on the pitch clock. If he drags his feet, it’s a strike against him. And we all know what three strikes mean . . . You’re out!
The average time of a nine-inning game stretched from two hours, 30 minutes in the mid-1950s to 3:10 in 2021. It dropped to 3:04 last year following the introduction of the pitch clock. MLB hopes to keep that momentum going—and keep fans alert and engaged with the game.
Two infielders are required on either side of second base and all four infielders must be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber. They aren’t allowed to move until the ball has left the pitcher’s hand. Prior to this rule, infielders could roam around more freely, anticipating the “sweet spots” that batters try to hit into.
This rule says infielders can only switch from one side of the field to the other between innings—not between batters—or if there is a substitution during the middle of an inning.
The goal is to increase batting averages. The batting average dropped from .269 in 2006 to .243 last year, its lowest since 1968.
The base size increased to 18-inch squares, up from 15 inches. This decreases the distance between bases by 4 ½ inches. Ideally, this will reduce injuries when players slide into bases. But it also makes the distance players must run just that much shorter.
Pickoffs are a type of “disengagement” in baseball. This means a pitching move other than pitching to home plate. Pitchers have always been allowed to try to “pick off” runners, attempt fake pickoffs, and step off the rubber to intimidate those who might try to steal bases. The rule regulates the number of times a pitcher can attempt those plays to two times before being charged with a balk. The only way the pitcher won’t be charged for that extra attempt is if the play results in a player advancing a base or an out is made.
Fans love stolen bases. They also like to see a player get picked off. What they don’t enjoy is the delay of game when a pitcher fakes a pickoff over and over and over again, or fruitlessly throws to an infielder multiple times.
The number of stolen bases per game has decreased over the past few years. The rule should help bring stolen bases back! (The crowd goes wild!)
Some players, managers, and fans have reservations about tampering with the game they love. But Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash supports a faster game. “Pitch clock, I’m thrilled about. Speed the game up. They get too long. If we’re playing the Red Sox or playing the Yankees, they turn into four-hour ballgames.”
Will the new rules deliver? Or are they a little off base?
Why? Baseball is an American classic, but as cultural expectations change, sports must keep up. New rules may help protect players and increase game speed to keep the sport alive and thriving.