It was reported earlier this week that MLB was considering modifications to the various rule changes that are being implemented this year. A pitch clock, limits on defensive shifts, pickoff attempts and bigger bases will all be part of the 2023 season and have been in use during spring games. The Competition Committee consists of six league appointees, one umpire and four players and is responsible for deciding on rule changes for the sport. They met earlier this week to discuss concerns that have been raised after the players have spent the past few weeks getting adjusted to the new rules.
After deciding on some small changes, the league issued a memo to teams to outline what’s new. Though some fans might have been wishing for sweeping alterations or perhaps abandoning some rule changes altogether, the memo actually consists of many minor tweaks, with Jeff Passan of ESPN and Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com among those relaying the details. As noted in the memo, the changes are achieving their goal of quickening the pace of play, with the average running time of a spring game dropping from three hours and one minute to two hours and 36 minutes. Given that, they’re not abandoning the key pieces, such as the 15-second pitch clock with the bases empty or the 20-second clock with runners on, nor the requirement that the better be alert with eight seconds left.
The changes are as follows:
- The rule that Passan highlights as the most important involves replays of defensive shift violations. There was some concern that teams would challenge defensive positioning on key plays, hoping that one of the four infielders had a toe or a heel beyond where they were supposed to be standing. Today’s memo specifies that only the position of the player who first fielded the ball can be challenged. For instance, on a groundout to the third baseman, the batting team can’t challenge that the second baseman was violating the positioning rules.
- MLB players began using PitchCom last year, an electronic device that allowed catchers to call pitches, which arrive to the pitcher as an audio message via a receiver in their hat. If a device malfunctions, the player must inform the umpire, who can grant time and stop the clock. Bob Nightengale of USA Today adds that a pitcher won’t get more time if they forget their PitchCom in the dugout at the start of an inning. This is to prevent players from deliberately forgetting the device for any reason.
- Bat boys and bat girls will have standards applied to their responsibilities of retrieving equipment from the field of play. As part of the pace of play efforts, the league can ask clubs to replace them if they are deemed not quick enough.
- Umpires can delay the start of the pitch clock, or wave it off if the operator has already started it, on brushback pitches or “big swings” where equipment falls off or the hitter falls to the ground.
- When pitchers leave the mound to make a defensive play, the 30-second between-batters clock will be delayed and will restart when the pitcher is back on the infield grass. If the pitcher is in foul territory to back up a play, it will restart once he is back in fair territory.
- Umpires will have some discretionary ability with the clock when it comes to catchers who finish an inning batting or on base. The two-minute and 30-second between-innings clock can be paused at the 30-second mark if the catcher isn’t ready, provided they made a “reasonable effort” to do so. In that case, the catcher will be allowed to receive one warm-up pitch and make a throw down to second base.
- After a hitter calls time out, which is allowed once per plate appearance, the clock would restart from 15 or 20 once he was alert in the batter’s box. Now the batter has the onus of telling the umpire when he’s ready, regardless of where he is standing, thus restarting the clock. Castrovince notes that in the rare instance that a batter uses his timeout and is then replaced mid-at-bat due to injury, the pinch-hitter will not be awarded an additional timeout.
There’s also another rule change that hasn’t yet been implemented but seems imminent. Some pitchers and catchers have been flipping the PitchCom system, where the pitcher relays the signal to the catcher. Though some have been experimenting with this setup this spring, it hasn’t yet been approved for regular season usage. Passan reports that it is expected to be approved, perhaps as soon as this week.