In the latest iteration of things nobody was asking for, MLB has announced another set of rule changes set to take effect starting with the 2024 season.
According to a Tweet from ESPN's Jesse Rogers, MLB will now implement an 18-second pitch clock with runners on base, further limit mound visits to 4 per game instead of 5, they've widened the path to first base for runners, and pitchers who warm up before the start of an inning must face at least one batter.
MLB implemented a number of rules last year intending to speed up pace of play, and the pitch clock largely accomplished that. Average game time dropped from 3:06 in 2022 to 2:42 in 2023, a massive decrease.
Last year, the pitch clock allowed 15 seconds between pitches with nobody on base, and 20 seconds between pitches with runners on. MLB has decided the 20 seconds were too long and have shaved two additional ticks off the timer.
In addition to the change to the timer, MLB will also limit teams to just 4 mound visits per game. MLB instituted a 6 visit per game rule in 2018, which was shortened to 5 per game prior to 2023.
That seems to have been too much for the commissioner's office, however, as they've reduced the number once more.
Widening the runners pathway to first base will likely have limited impact on the normal course of play. There are bunt situations where runners can stray more toward the left side of the foul line to avoid contact with the ball or a defender, and that seems fine, especially if it helps avoid any potential injuries.
The curious one is mandating that any pitchers who warm up prior to the start of an inning must face at least one batter in that inning.
It only really affects the situation where a pitcher gets warmed up on the mound prior to an inning and the opposing team trots out a pinch hitter, possibly to account for a platoon advantage. Teams will now be forced to have that pitcher go for at least one batter before removing him from the game.
MLB has been pretty open about trying to limit pitching changes, especially later in games. Over the past decade, those pitching changes in the 6th inning or later have generally killed the pace of play, and add much more time to the games.
It's understandable that the league wants to limit how often those pitching changes take place. This specific change shouldn't have a widespread affect on game times or anything but is more of a niche situational adjustment.
Overall, these additional rule changes seem designed to get the games over with as quickly as possible. It's unclear to me whether anyone in the commissioner's office actually enjoys baseball.
Additionally, the MLB Players Association reportedly voted against the new rule changes, so we know what the players think of them.
There are moments where the games need to breathe. The pitch clock doesn't allow for that. Shortening the pitch timer only exacerbates the problem, and that's without any mention of the additional injuries MLB pitchers had in 2023.
Whether these new rules are successful or not will mostly be up to the fans. I still enjoy baseball, even if I'm not a fan of the pitch clock. On the other hand, there are tons of fans who appreciate the faster games. It's all a bit subjective at this point.
However, if the players are in disagreement about it, there will likely be some consternation when it comes time to hash out the new CBA after the 2026 season. The PA allowed these unilateral changes in the current iteration of the CBA. It'll take something substantial to get the players' opinions back at the bargaining table.
Ultimately, these changes will have a smaller impact on the games than the changes in 2023. Whether the changes are good for fans is to be determined.