MLB Opening Week – How Successful are the Rule Changes?

Ethan Engellau

Sports, Editor

The 2023 Major League Baseball season began March 30 with Atlanta Braves’ superstar outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. knocking a leadoff single off Washington Nationals’ starter Patrick Corbin. Before fans could even settle into their seats, the effects of this year’s rule changes were put to the test. Corbin, now pitching to Braves’ first baseman Matt Olson, pitched his way into a one ball, two strike count before stepping off the mound and throwing the ball over to first base two consecutive times in attempts to pick off the speedy Acuña. The new rules state that pitchers may only disengage two times during a plate appearance. In previous years, Corbin could continue to try and pick off Acuña all afternoon if he chose to. A disengagement is deemed any motion that involves the pitcher stepping off the rubber or a defensive timeout. The disengagement rule resets if a runner or runners advances a base during the same plate appearance such as a stolen base or moving up on a wild pitch. With Corbin having used his two disengagements, Acuña was free to get a massive lead off first base and steal second base easily on the following pitch. 

This leads to the second rule change of this season. The bases are bigger. Bases were increased from 15 by 15 inches to 18 by 18 inches in hopes of increasing activity on the bases. Now this barely decreases the distance a player must run to swipe a bag, but the bigger bases allow runners to maneuver their way onto the base easier and dodge the tag. Last season in the first week, 61 bases were swiped on 89 attempts throughout the league. This season, 124 bases have been successfully stolen on 154 attempts. This is an increase in success rate from 68.5% to 80.5% with double the number of bases stolen. As the MLB hoped, not only does this rule result in more action but has also seemingly encouraged teams to risk the stolen base more often thus far.

A great example of this are the current league-leaders in stolen bases: Myles Straw of the Cleveland Guardians and Gleyber Torres of the New York Yankees. Straw played 152 games last season and stole 21 bags. Torres played 140 games last season and stole 10 bags. Through six games, both Straw and Torres already have five stolen bases. Despite this newfound aggressiveness on the base path, Straw and Torres would need to keep up this same average through 156 games, playing every game to tie Rickey Henderson’s single season record of 130, which really puts Henderson’s greatness into perspective.

The most obvious rule change of this season is the pitch clock. This is the rule that started it all, in an attempt to bring in more viewers, the MLB wants to shorten the overall length of the game. The pitch clock works as follows: with no runners on base, the pitcher has 15 seconds to begin their pitching motion, meaning they must have their leg lifted in the air before the timer runs out. If base runners are on, the pitcher has 20 seconds. If their delivery is not being enacted before the timer runs out, the penalty is an automatic ball. As for the batter, they must have both feet in the batter’s box and their eyes directed at the pitcher when the clock reaches eight seconds remaining. The same penalty applies for the batter as they are charged an automatic strike. The average length of games in the 2022 season was three hours and eight minutes. This season, games are averaging two hours and 38 minutes. 

The two other rule changes being enforced, which have taken a backseat to the major three, are the shift ban and the rule on position players pitching. The shift has become a crucial defensive strategy over the last decade allowing four players to play on the right side of the infield and practically guarantee an out against extreme-pull hitters such as Joey Gallo. Gallo has seen an intense decline in his production since he was a target of the shift. Within a week without the shift, Gallo looks to be back in All-Star form. 

The previous rule stated that a team had to be up or down six runs for a position player to be allowed to pitch. Teams would utilize this rule to rest their bullpen when their offense was having a hot day at the plate. In attempts to keep the competitiveness of the game, the new rule states that the winning team must be up ten runs, or the losing team must be down eight runs before they are authorized to bring in a position player on the mound. 

Statistically the rule changes are working. There seems to still be some confusion about how the rules are to be enforced. We have seen Padres third baseman Manny Machado be ejected for arguing that he was set before the clock reached eight seconds. We have seen Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers confusingly get an automatic strike to end his at-bat in a crucial spot. We have seen Shohei Ohtani get a violation called against him both as a batter and as a pitcher. Ohtani was seen speaking to the umpire with his interpreter after these violations took place trying to work through why they were called. 

As an avid baseball fan since my youth, I watch a lot of MLB games, and personally I haven’t noticed much of a difference besides the stolen base activity. The players are taking less practice swings or playing with the rosin bag less but as for the quality of the games, the teams that would predictably win are winning (except the Phillies, yikes) and it doesn’t seem many players are being affected. The players I’ve seen affected the most are relief pitchers as many such as James Karinchak or Craig Kimbrel have notorious preparations before they pitch like an NBA player’s free-throw routine. I’m a fan of the rule changes if it gets more people involved in a sport I adore as long as Game Seven of the World Series doesn’t end on a pitch clock violation.

Categories: featured, Sports


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