Major league baseball will implement three rules this year that will have a major impact on the game … two of them positive.
The first rule is the pitch clock.
Pitchers will have 15 seconds between pitches to begin their delivery with the bases empty and 20 seconds with a runner on. Pitchers must begin their motion in that time or be assessed a ball. Batters not in the box by the eight-second mark will receive a strike.
This simple rule should speed the game up considerably. The average game time last season was 3:03. Fifty years ago games were played in 2:36. It’s not unusual in modern day baseball to see games last 3.5 hours.
Even diehard baseball fans like myself struggle to maintain interest for that length of time.
Frequently, I’ll watch the first three innings of a game, then watch an episode or two of “The Big Bang Theory” before switching back and watching the eighth and ninth innings.
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The new rules will prevent batters from stepping out of the box between every pitch. It will prevent pitchers from fidgeting, adjusting their belt, going to the rosin bag or simply staring at the catcher interminably before throwing the ball.
The new rules have been tested at the minor league level with great success, shaving nearly 30 minutes off game time.
The pitch clock could be baseball’s most important rule change in my lifetime. It gets a big thumbs up.
The second rule change is the size of the bases. Major league bases will now be 18 inches square, rather than 15.
My initial reaction was that the additional three inches would tilt the game entirely toward the offense because a runner going to first base would have to run three less inches. And, in this era of incessant replays, baseball fans know how many plays are decided by a fraction of an inch.
However, the first baseman will also be three inches closer to the fielder throwing the ball, nullifying any advantage the runner may have had.
Conversely, the larger bases might enhance the running game. The distance between first and second base is now theoretically six inches shorter, meaning it should be easier for runners to steal bases. In addition, runners have an additional three inches on either side of the bag to target their slides. Stolen base percentage in MLB varied from 85.3% (White Sox) to 63.7% (Reds).
If that percentage improves even marginally, the running game could get a significant boost, putting a premium on speed once again. That merits a big thumbs up.
The third rule, the “ghost runner” rule, is, as the name suggests, ghastly.
In essence, each offensive team gets a runner on second base to begin every inning after the ninth. This rule fundamentally changes the game by arbitrarily placing a runner on first base. Again, this is a rule designed to speed up extra inning games.
Unfortunately, this is approach is using a sledgehammer to kill a fly.
Last year just 9.2% of games went into extra innings. And, historically, 95.4% of all games were decided by the 11th inning. A change this drastic is an overreaction, particularly with the new speed up rules in effect.
This one gets a big thumbs down.
LES WINKELER is the former sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at email@example.com, on Twitter @LesWinkeler.