Impact of MLB’s new rules: Shorter games, more steals and higher averages with pitch clock, shift ban in place

We have reached the second half of spring training. Every MLB team reached the middle of their spring show schedule last weekend, with Opening Day two weeks and three days away. Spring training games are fun in their own way, although the novelty wears off after a while. I think we’re all hungry for meaningful MLB action. It is not far. Hold tight.

The 2023 season will be a landmark for Major League Baseball. There is a new schedule format in which every team will play every other team at least once, and several new rules will also be implemented. Here’s everything you need to know about the new rules and here is a short example:

  • Feed timer: 15 seconds with empty bases and 20 seconds with runners on base
  • Limitation on extreme shifts: Two infielders on each side of second base stand with both feet on the dirt or grass in the infield.
  • Large bases: 18 inches by 18 inches instead of 15 inches by 15 inches.

The goal is to improve the pace of the game and have more action on the pitch. More hits, more aggressive base running, more opportunities for the best players in the world to showcase their athleticism. The rise in baseball’s three true scores (walks, strikeouts, home runs) has led to longer games with less action. It’s time for MLB to step in, hence the new rules.

With the spring schedule halfway through and less than three weeks until opening, let’s check out the new rules and how they’ve impacted the game this spring, shall we?

Pitch timer

Where has the pitch timer been my whole life? I knew I would love it just from watching juveniles over the past few years and I love it even more than I thought. The timer keeps the game moving and reduces dead time between pitches. There is much less standing while the batter adjusts his gloves, the pitcher catches his breath, etc. The flow of the game is greatly improved.

The main purpose of the pitch timer is to reduce the dead time between pitches, and the by-product of this is shorter games. Spring training games averaged 3:00 (three hours) in 2021 and 3:01 in 2022. On weekends, they average 2:36 (two hours and 36 minutes) this spring. The 25-minute improvement matches the 21-minute improvement in Triple-A last season. Game data spring training time dates back to 2006, and 2:36 this year is the lowest on record. The previous low was 2:40 in 2006.

The advantage this spring is that the World Baseball Classic serves as a control group. The WBC does not use a submission timer and the average time for these games through Saturday was 3:23. The first US vs. UK match had eight runs, 25 baserunners, and seven pitching substitutions and ran 2:54. The Blue Jays played the game against the Orioles that day with 14 runs, 26 baserunners, and 12 pitch changes. That lasted only 2:43. Notably the absence of a serve timer in WBC games.

Last season, MLB games averaged 3:03 per nine innings, the lowest since 3:00 in 2018 and below the all-time high of 3:11 in 2021. hasn’t been this low since 2:45 since 1989. There is a real chance that this will happen this year. Reducing dead time between pitches is a priority, but shorter games are an advantage. We get the same nine innings in baseball in less time.

According to ESPN, there were 1.89 timer violations per game in the first week of spring games. It was 1.41 in the second week and 1.17 in the third week. Last year in Triple-A, there were roughly two infractions per game in the first two weeks, and in the month before the start of the season, the players reduced that to one infringement in every second game. There was, of course, automatic strike at the end of the game on the first spring weekend. You probably remember this:

It’s good what happened! Let the players learn the rules in spring training, hard if necessary, so they are ready for the big games to start. The whole history of baseball tells us that if you give the players time to adjust to the new rule, they will. Feed timer violations are gradually decreasing this spring and will continue to decrease. It may be time to adjust the pitch timer rules. Now is not the time. Let the new rules take a break.

After three weeks of spring training, the feed timer is working exactly as intended. Games have better flow, which we can’t measure but can see and feel, and the decrease in disruption tells us that players are adapting. As an added bonus, games don’t last as long, giving us more time for literally everything else in our lives.

More balls in the game go to strikes

Limiting extreme shifts is a tough nut to crack. How much will it be in offense and league average? I don’t think anyone knows the answer to this question. Yankee first baseman Anthony Rizzo is one of the most volatile hitters in the game. He hit .222 in 2020, .248 in 2021, and .224 in 2022. If he scores, say, 0.245 in 2023, is it because the shift helped him? Or is it just the annual ebb and flow of the average level, like his numbers for 2020-2022?

It can be difficult for an individual player to determine how much, if anything, limiting extreme shifts helps. But at the league level, we have to… must – be able to grasp the impact of the new rules. Ignoring the odd 2020 pandemic season, here’s the average number of balls per game this spring compared to the past few spring and regular seasons:

Spring BABIP BABIP regular season
















Outside of 2020, BABIP’s spring training has remained stable from 2018 to 2022. The BABIP drop from spring training to the regular season is typically in the 25-30 range, and if that’s the case this year, the league has a chance of hitting its first .300 BABIP since 2017. No means the league will hit .300. Here we are talking only about the average score in the game. Strikeouts and home runs (home runs are not in play in the sense that the defense can play them) are removed, so the actual average is always lower than the BABIP.

In any case, yes, there will be more balls in the game this spring. It’s not much more – an eight-point increase in BABIP since last spring – that’s one extra hit for every 125 balls in a game, or one for every 5-6 games – but it’s more. Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenick saw a shift in 86.7% of games at his plate last year, one of the highest in baseball. Do you think he likes the new rules?

Importantly, the new rules limit extreme shifts, not prohibit them. The rules state that teams must have two infielders on each side of second base and have their feet on the dirt or grass in the infield when the field is vacated. However, outfielders can play anywhere and teams are already playing with the outfielder on the right. Here’s the outfield formation the Yankees used against Cardinals infielder Nolan Gorman, a heavy left-hander, last week:

One outfielder right, one right center, and one left center. Center field is wide open and it is a bet that a hitter is more likely to pull the ball into an impromptu offset than find center field. Get burned by a traditional infield shift and you’ll likely turn down one. Get burned by Gorman’s shift above and we’re talking extra bases, guaranteed. This is a big risk. I’m not sure how often teams will take that kind of risk, but we’re already seeing it in spring training. They are willing to at least try.

“It’s something we’ll definitely consider in certain situations,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Gorman’s post-game switch (behind New York Post).

At the moment, the BABIP league this spring is several points higher than in the previous few springs. Restriction on extreme shifts most likely contributes to this. It may even be the only reason. We are still in fact-finding mode. We need more data before we can start drawing real conclusions about the impact of the new rules. The first results say that yes, we will see some more hits, and in general it is good. More hits = more attacks, and more attacks = more exciting baseball.

Stolen bases on the way

As expected, stolen bases and stolen base attempts have increased significantly due to the disengagement restriction and larger bases. Pitchers now only get two exits (lockpick throw or side step) per plate spawn. If they disengage a third time, an out must be recorded in play, otherwise it is a block. This, plus the (slightly) shorter distance between bases, makes stealing bases a little easier. And that was the goal. Stolen bases are exciting and MLB wants more action.

Again ignoring the quirky 2020 season, here are the stolen base numbers this spring compared to the past few springs and regular seasons:

Spring SB tries per game Spring SB success rate Reg. SB season tries per game Reg. season SB success rate






















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