The new rules to make baseball more dynamic: Bigger bases, 15 seconds to throw and defensive restrictions

The MLB seeks to cut the duration of the games by up to half an hour and revitalize the games with more stolen bases and hits

Trevor Williams, pitcher for the Washington Nationals
Washington Nationals center fielder Trevor Williams with the new pitch clock in the background.Lynne Sladky (AP)
Luis Pablo Beauregard

The United States wants to revolutionize baseball, one of its most popular sports. Major League Baseball (MLB) returns this Thursday with a new season. Among the favorites to be crowned are the reigning champions Houston Astros, with José Altuve and Jeremy Peña. Also among the favorites are the San Diego Padres, who have never won the World Series and hope to do so with the help of Dominican star Juan Soto. The Atlanta Braves, the Mets and the New York Yankees, in addition to the Los Angeles Dodgers, have good odds, but the wait continues for a franchise to make a statement move.

Japan conquered the summit of world baseball a few days ago. The World Classic featured Shoei Ohtani, a force to be reckoned with who defeated the United States in the final. The Americans have won only one of the five World Cups played since 2006, underscoring the great competition that exists in a sport that began to gain international popularity towards the end of the 19th century. The hunt to land Ohtani, who currently plays for the Los Angeles Angels, will be one to watch in the 2023 campaign. The Japanese was MLB’s 11th-best hitter and sixth-best pitcher last year. He is the first since 1893 to rank in the top 15 in both categories. His days with LA’s second team are numbered, and it will be difficult to keep him beyond the summer.

What makes the current season special are the new rules implemented by league authorities. MLB has been suffering a crisis since 2012, as stadium attendance has fallen 14% since then. In 2022, it fell 5.7% compared to 2019, the last full season played before the pandemic, according to Forbes. Last year 67.5 million fans attended the diamond, down nearly a million from three years earlier. This is the worst figure since 1997. The World Series, the final, doesn’t fare much better on television. The 2022 World Series was watched by 11.7 million people, the second-worst figure in 50 years of television ratings (the lowest was the 2020 Dodgers-Rays final, at 9.7 million).

MLB officials have put new rules on the table to inject some vitality into what was the first professional sport in the United States. Sports fans have complained in various polls about the length of the games. “Two obvious themes have emerged from our research. The first is that fans want a fresher pace of play. They want shorter games with better rhythm. When you ask them how long a baseball game should last, the immediate answer is two hours and 30 minutes,” Morgan Sword, MLB vice president, said this week.

Moises Castillo, segunda base de los White Sox, segundo antes de atrapar un batazo de los Cubs.
White Sox second baseman Moises Castillo, a second before catching a Cubs hit.Ross D. Franklin (AP)

Here is a summary of the adjustments that MLB will test in the 2023 season:

15 seconds to revolutionize baseball

To reduce the average time spent in a game, which often exceeds three hours, MLB officials have looked first at the pitchers. Pitchers dictate the cadence of the game depending on the condition of their arms. Those days have come to an end. Starting this Thursday, players will have 15 seconds to begin their movement on the mound from the moment they receive the ball from the catcher. When there are men on base, the clock will have 20 seconds. If the pitcher breaks the rule, the account will automatically add a ball. As in the minor leagues, batters will have 30 seconds to reach the batter’s box. If they don’t, they will have a strike against them. This rule has caused the average preseason game to be shortened by 26 minutes to two hours, 35 minutes.

Limit to pickoff

This rule is derived from the previous one. The pickoff is the throw the pitcher makes to first base to prevent an opposing player from stealing second base. Previously there was no restriction on the number of throws the pitcher could make to first base, but now they may only do so twice. If there is a third, the runner will automatically advance to the next base. This rule is intended to bring more movement and action to the game, which translates into base stealing by more athletic players. This may bring back a style seen in the 1980s, where teams included very fast players in their lineups. In that decade, the American and National leagues that make up MLB combined for more than 3,000 stolen bases per year. But that trend has faded. The league has not reached that figure in eleven years.

Restriction to defensive formation

According to Morgan Sword, fans want to see, in addition to an increase in base stealing, more hits and doubles. Starting Thursday, defensive first and second basemen will be positioned to the right of second plate. The shortstop and third baseman will be positioned to the left. All four must have both feet on the clay at the time of the pitcher’s throw. With this measure, the league aims to break a popular defensive lock that pushed the third baseman to second and the other three players positioned as outfielders, which drastically reduced the space for hits. The formation has proven to affect left-handed hitters the most, who were more often exposed to outs on fly balls to right. The scheme is responsible for the batting average dropping since 2012 and strikeouts rising. The punishment for not complying with the new rule will be an automatic ball to the pitcher’s account.

Jeimer Candelario, de los Nationals, se roba la segunda base en un partido contra los Astros.
Jeimer Candelario, de los Nationals, se roba la segunda base en un partido contra los Astros.Rich Storry (USA TODAY Sports)

Bigger bases

The width of these has increased from 15 inches (38 centimeters) to 18 inches (45 centimeters). Home does not change its dimensions. With this adjustment, MLB intends to encourage stealing, while giving defensive players more room to operate on double plays and to eliminate opponents sweeping after the run and avoid collisions that could cause injury to both.

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