FOR THE WEEK OF APR 03, 2023
Pro baseball games get quicker and livelier, thanks to changes this just-started season
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Major League Baseball (MLB) games are faster this season, which began last Thursday. Three major rules changes are aimed at shortening breaks and adding action. They affect every key part of the sport -- pitching, hitting, baserunning and fielding -- and are the biggest adjustments since designated hitters were allowed in 1973. "Our job is to entertain first," says Kansas City Royals infielder Matt Duffy. "If the product as a whole is not entertaining, people aren't going to come."
Here's what's new in an effort to eliminate long stretches of inactivity:
- Bases are three square inches larger, which means first and third are slightly closer to home plate – making it slightly easier for swift runners to steal an extra base, adding excitement.
- Managers are limited in where they can move fielders before a pitch. Fielders must stay on their sides of the infield and can't step onto the outfield grass – eliminating the tactic of shifting players for certain batters. In other words, shortstops will play shortstop and second basemen will play second base. The result is expected to be more hits and more athletic plays by infielders racing to the ball.
- The highest-impact rules limit the boring lags between pitches and between batters. Hitters now have 30 seconds after the last play to stand at the plate and just eight seconds to be ready when a pitcher gets the ball. A game-delay strike is called if they're not set at home plate. (Batters can get one time out per appearance.) Pitchers must begin the throwing motion within 15 seconds of getting the ball if bases are empty or 20 seconds if there's at least one runner. Pitchers can try only two throws to pick off a runner taking a long lead, another alteration intended to reverse a big decline in stolen-base attempts in the past 30 years.
Behind the adjustments is this reality: Ballpark attendance has fallen steadily since 2015, and the 2022 average was the lowest since 1996. The sixth game of the last World Series, between Philadelphia and Houston, attracted 12.5 million viewers -- the fewest ever for a decisive game in prime time. Now a MLB executive vice president promises "a form of the sport that no one has ever seen before."
Spring training stat: Pitch clock violations fell from an average of two per game in the first week to one per game in the final full week.
Commercial says: "This is the game we all want to see — get the ball, pitch the ball, keep the defense on their toes." – Bryan Cranston, actor, in MLB television ad
Writer says: "It will be a crisper, more engaging, more athletic, more entertaining experience." -- Anthony Castrovince, Major League Baseball staff reporter