Baseball fans are always giddy this time of year with a fresh feeling of optimism. Rather than wins and losses, spring training is about possibilities. Injured players are back or working on it. Promising prospects are turning heads. Fans will even cut accomplished but slow-starting veterans some slack they will not get by May or June. Rather than wins and losses, coaches worry more about players getting their work in.
New year, new rules
But 2023 is also different because Major League Baseball made some big changes to speed up the pace of play and increase the amount of action. These changes were implemented in A-ball last season and will be a part of MLB in 2023. The rules include:
- Pitch clock: The pitcher must start their motion within 15 seconds of getting the ball if no runners are on base. They must start their motion within 20 seconds if runners are on base. The picture will be charged a ball if they fail to start in time.
- Pickoff: The pitcher can only disengage (throw to the base, or step off the rubber for any reason) twice per batter after the clock starts. It is a balk if they exceed the limit. This change should encourage more base stealing.
- Larger bases: The diameter grows from 15 inches to 18 inches. The larger size puts the bases three inches closer, and the larger area means fewer injuries as players try to tag in a less confined space. This change and fewer pickoff attempts significantly increased base stealing in A-ball.
- No shift: All four infield players must be on the dirt or infield grass, and two players must be on each side of the second base. The goal is to have more balls drop in for hits even when the batter is a pull hitter or has another established tendency.
- Fielders pitching: To save pitching staff, teams recently have used more fielders to pitch rather than waste a real pitcher’s arm in a blowout. The minimum lead for doing this goes from six or more runs to eight or ten or more runs. (The league has not finalized this change.)
- Pitchers calling games: This started in 2022, but MLB now allows pitchers who want to call their own game can wear a belt that buzzes the catcher with the pitch choice and location. It is said to speed up the game, and prevent sign stealing.
Change is good
Spring training is nearing its conclusion with a substantial sample size. So far, the average spring training game length has gone from 3:01 in 2022 to 2:36 in 2023. Moreover, there are more hits, runs and steals. All in all, the changes have been an enormous success.