The Major League Baseball competition committee has voted by majority to implement larger bases, a pitch clock and restrictions on defensive shifting, the league announced on Friday.
However, the vote was not unanimous, as the MLBPA announced that players on the committee voted against the pitch clock and infield shift rule proposals because, in the words of the union, MLB was "unwilling to meaningfully address the areas of concern that Players raised . . .".
That said, unanimity was not required in order for the rule changes to pass. "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," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement released by the league. "Throughout the extensive testing of recent years, Minor League personnel and a wide range of fans – from the most loyal to casual observers – have recognized the collective impact of these changes in making the game even better and more enjoyable. We appreciate the participation of the representatives of the Major League Players and Umpires in this process."
Here's a look at the specific details of those changes:
The goal with the pitch clock would be to cut out as much "down time" as possible, especially when there aren't runners on base and the pitcher is standing on the mound holding the baseball. This has been tested in the minors for a few years and there haven't been many major complaints.
According to the rule changes, the clock will be 30 seconds between hitters. The catcher must be in his box and ready with nine seconds left on the timer while the hitter has to have both feet in the box and "be alert to the pitcher" within eight seconds of the clock starting.
Pitchers can still step off the rubber, which would reset the clock to 20 seconds if there's a baserunner and 15 seconds if there isn't. They are only permitted to do this twice per batter, though. According to MLB, similar changes in the minors reduced the average game time by 26 minutes and coincided with an increase in stolen base attempts and stolen base success rate. The stolen base numbers may also be related to the increased size of bases, as detailed below.
The rules are obviously much more detailed and specific, so check out the official details if interested.
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The shift has been a hot topic for years, notably "ban the shift" discussions. Heading into Thursday, the league batting average was a paltry .243 and while a decent portion of that lag from high-batting-average seasons is strikeouts, the batting average on balls in play is .290 (it was .300 in 2000). The line of thinking goes that if defenses shift less, more balls will find open spots leading to a higher batting average on balls in play and more action on the field.
Per the league:
- Upon release of each pitch, there must be a minimum of four defenders -- other than the battery -- with both feet within the outer boundary of the infield dirt.
- Upon release of the pitch, there must be two of the four infielders on each side of second base.
- The team must designate two infielders for each side of second base and they cannot switch (for example, a team can't have a stud defender move back and forth based upon the handedness of the hitter).
The bases have been 15 inches, square, on each side for decades and the size will increase to 18 inches on each side. There are a list of reasons for the change, among them that players' feet are much bigger now than when the bases were designed, possibly increasing the action on the basepaths (making it easier to steal bases or take the extra base on hits) and to possibly make it easier for players to stay on second and third in close plays instead of having long replays to see if a player barely came off the bag for a split second.
According to MLB, the increased base size in the minors has coincided with a decrease in base-related injuries by 13.5 percent.