Drastic MLB Rule Changes Usher in a New Era of Baseball
In the beginning of February 2023, Major League Baseball (MLB) unveiled its finalized rule changes slated to commence during the 2023 spring training games. Most notably, the addition of a pitch timer and limits on defensive shift changes seem to be the most drastic adjustments for players. The pitch timer rule enforces a 30-second time limit between batters, 15-second time limit between pitches with bases empty, and a 20-second time limit between pitches with runners on base.
However, the intricacies of the rule changes are much greater than just the time restrictions – the rules also limit pickoff attempts and the number of times pitchers can step off the mound. Under the pitch clock rule, pitchers are only allowed two “disengagements” per plate appearance. If a pitcher attempts a third disengagement and is not successful, he is charged an automatic ball. Additionally, batters who take too long in the batter’s box are given an automatic strike against them as a form of “delay of game” punishment. Finally, the defensive shifts rule enforces a strict minimum of four players residing within the infield, with at least two players on either side of second base. These new rules were implemented into both spring training and regular season game play for the 2023 season via an approval from the Joint Competition Committee (JCC), which is a voting collective that is made up of four active players, six members appointed by the MLB and one umpire. However, it is important to note that the rules were approved by the JCC even though all four players on the JCC voted against their implementation.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed that the rule changes come in an effort to respond positively to League research about fan satisfaction with baseball. The League’s internal research which focused on using fan suggestions to improve and modernize the game, shows that fans have been wanting to see more action and a faster paced game for years.
In evaluation of the spring training games, the rule changes have successfully facilitated some of goals set forth by Manfred and MLB. Early in the spring training games, San Diego Padre Manny Machado was the first player to fall victim to the time restrictions on batters. Machado started an at bat with a 0-1 count because he neglected to enter the batter's box within the time limit. By implementing time restrictions for batters in spring training, MLB should see shorter game times overall.
While data about the pitch clock rule’s effect on MLB games will not be released until later in the season, a pitch clock rule piloted in the minor leagues last year resulted in a 25-minute reduction in game length. Similarly in MLB spring training, the new rule has already reduced game times, increased game pace, and created more exciting action for fans to enjoy.
While Manfred and MLB seem overly optimistic about a future jump in viewership and the return of high attendance at games due to the new rules, the players remain skeptical. Players, including those on the JCC that voted against the rule changes, have commented that they believe the rules are being implemented too quickly and are too drastic for players to adjust to on a whim. These same players emphasize that their resistance to the rule changes for 2023 is not due to an opposition to the rules in theory, but rather a resistance to the abrupt changes all happening at once, which feels discombobulating.
Despite player backlash, with the implementation of the new rules, MLB is ushering in a new era of baseball that focuses on fan engagement, faster game pace, and an increase in action. The League hopes that this new version of baseball will win back some former viewers and hopefully attract new viewers, too. If MLB can successfully build on this year’s new rules and minimize player backlash, MLB should hopefully achieve its goal of resurgence in interest from fans.
However, if Manfred and MLB continue to brush off player protests to abruptly implemented new rules, this could be another major point of contention during talks for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2026 that could lead to another lockout like the one that occurred in 2022.
 Edward Sutelan. MLB rule changes, explained: Pitch clock, shift ban and more coming to baseball in 2023. (9 September 2022) https://www.sportingnews.com/us/mlb/news/mlb-rule-changes-explained-pitch-clock-shift-ban-2023/oxa3a45feavwbjnxwfwiivxg  Anthony Castrovince. Pitch timer, shift restrictions among announced rule changes for ’23. (1February 2023) https://www.mlb.com/news/mlb-2023-rule-changes-pitch-timer-larger-bases-shifts  Id.  Alicia de Artola. MLB Rule Changes Explained: How the changes will affect the 2023 season. (1 March 1 2023) https://fansided.com/2023/02/24/mlb-rule-changes-explained-2023-season/  Id.  Id.  Castrovince, supra.  Id.  Id.  Id.  Artola, supra.  Id.  Jesse Rogers. Inside MLB’s new 2023 rules, from the shift to the pitch clock. (13 February 2023) https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/35629997/mlb-new-2023-season-rules-shift-pitch-clock  Id.  Id.