(NEW YORK) — America’s pastime will look slightly different this season with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred saying fans are the reason the sport is working to evolve the action of the game.
“What underlies the rule changes is you want a game that moves along, has a lot of action and is entertaining for people,” Manfred told ABC News’ Good Morning America Tuesday about the changes to the sport. “Our research showed that the game had evolved and changed in a way that fans didn’t like and we decided it was time to intervene to make sure we put the best form of baseball on the field.”
In an effort to make baseball games more fast-paced, one of the new rules by MLB for the 2023 season is putting pitchers on the clock. When the bases are empty, a pitcher will have 15 seconds to start their throwing motion and 20 seconds if there are runners on base. Previously, they could take their time on the mound with no pressure to throw the pitch by a certain time.
Manfred explained that despite the addition of a pitch timer, baseball is “still a game with no clock in the sense that the end of the game isn’t determined by any timing. The game ends naturally just like it always has and I see the pitch timer as a small change to move things along.”
“I think fans will notice that the game has a brisk pace to it and the games will be shorter,” he said.
Shaving off those seconds has already resulted in quicker games — on average, spring training games were played 25 minutes faster in 2023.
The league is also outlawing defensive shifts — a trend that has increased dramatically in recent years — to yield more offense. Two infielders must stay on either side of second base and all four need to have both feet in the dirt before the pitch.
According to MLB, “shift restrictions increased batting average and decreased strikeouts in Minors while giving players more opportunity to show off their athleticism.”
“The attention span of fans we know is limited,” Manfred explained. “The game historically was played in a window — 2 1/2 [hours] to 2:45 — and in a lot of ways we’re restoring baseball to when it was the most popular.”
A third major rule change sees the size of the bases getting bigger, from 15 square inches to 18. The larger bags at first, second and third base are expected to have a positive impact on player safety as well as reduce the distance of the base path. It will be 3 inches shorter from home base to first and third to home, while the path from first to second and second to third was reduced by 4.5 inches.
This slightly shorter base paths could also lead to more stolen bases.
“Nothing stays in exactly the same form,” Manfred told critics of the changes. “And the fact of the matter is the game had evolved naturally and has changed dramatically and it got to the point where it was important to intervene and make sure that we were putting the best product on the field.”
Overall, he said MLB wants to maintain “the atmosphere in our ballparks” and said that their “live product is a family-friendly product … our clubs price in a way that encourages families to come to the ballpark.”
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