A tighter pitch clock of 18 seconds with runners on base… a new, wider runner’s lane between home and first base… one less visit to the mound.
All of those rule changes will come to Major League Baseball in 2024, as part of a series of adjustments and changes announced by MLB on Thursday. The Athletic He initially reported on many of these proposals in early November at CEO meetings. They were formally approved by the competition committee on Thursday. The most notable changes are these:
The clock tone: With runners on base, pitchers will have 18 seconds between pitches, down from 20 this year. MLB proposed the change after seeing the average time of a nine-inning game grow by more than seven minutes, from 2 hours and 36 minutes in April to 2:44 in September.
The runner’s lane: After years of complaints, MLB will expand the dirt area along the first base line by 6 inches next season. Runners argued for years that the current runner’s lane forced them to weave between good and bad territory on their way to first base. This change is intended to allow runners to take a more direct route from home to first, without having to risk being called for interference.
Fewer visits to the mound: The number of mound visits will be reduced from five per team, per game, to four, although teams that have used their allotment will receive an additional visit in the ninth inning, as in the past. Mound visits increased slightly in 2023 as teams began using them as a way to avoid shot clock violations. But MLB says mound visits are still, in surveys, among fans’ least popular events at a game. And teams used more than four visits in only about 2 percent of all games this year. Another subtle change: To help speed up the pace of games, catchers will now be able to request a mound visit to avoid a clock violation, but they won’t actually have to go through the formality of going to the mound.
All-new ball game: MLB’s new rules changed everything
There were three other adjustments to the pace of play rules:
- MLB will reduce the time relievers have to warm up by 15 seconds if they exit the bullpen late after a mid-inning pitching change. They will now have two minutes to complete the warm-up, from the moment they come out of the bullpen, instead of the previous 2:15.
- After a foul, the shot clock will begin when the shooter has the ball and all defenders have returned to their positions. The previous rule language required the clock to be stopped until the pitcher returned to the mound, allowing pitchers to stop and take their time returning to the mound.
- Additionally, any pitcher who warms up at the start of an inning will now have to face at least one batter. That change comes in response to an increase in the number of times a pitching change occurred after a pitcher had warmed up before the start of an inning, primarily after the announcement of a pinch-hitter. Now, the pitcher must remain in the game for at least one more batter, even if the batting team has made a lineup change. According to MLB, there were 24 times this season, plus two in the World Series, when a pitcher warmed up between innings but exited without facing a batter in that inning.
Three other proposed changes will not be implemented (yet). After the players voiced their objection, MLB presented Drew with a proposal that would have required the umpire to restart the shot clock immediately after a batter called a timeout. There are now no plans to move forward with that change, according to major league sources familiar with those discussions.
However, a proposed change that would tighten the language on base blocking by fielders is still being debated, and could still be implemented by 2024.
Also still being discussed is a rule that would require all pitchers to work from the stretch with any runner on base. Starters have opposed this proposal because they prefer to work with a runner at third from the beginning. And relievers are concerned as they have increasingly adopted a “hybrid” pitch (part windup, part stretch) as a strategy to control the running game.
All changes announced Thursday will take effect next year, beginning in spring training. MLB has projected that they could reduce the average time of a game by about five minutes. The changes follow more than a month and a half of discussion, in which MLB and the competition committee surveyed players, managers, coaches, front offices and owners about how each idea would affect the game.
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(Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)