Spring is not far away. It’s late February, and presumably, the groundhog saw its shadow, or didn’t see it, whichever one means more winter. Most people don’t go by what rodents think, anyway. They’ll just look at their phone’s weather app or glance out the window.
In any event, Spring coming soon means flowers blooming, Home Depot commercials on TV advertising grass seed and lawn mowers, and also professional baseball returning. If you like baseball, you are probably looking at your team’s top prospects, the offseason moves ownership made, and how good the division’s other teams look. You might feel convinced your team can make the World Series this year, or you may think your squad looks hopeless.
Either way, this year will see some huge rule changes in professional baseball. It’s not just business as usual. These could become the most significant changes in multiple decades, so let’s look them over right now.
The Pitch Clock
4.2 billion people use social media networks and counting. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have 4.2 billion comments when the pitch clock starts up on professional baseball’s Opening Day. We’re sure to see some interesting commentary on Twitter and other platforms, though.
The team owners have been pitching the pitch clock for years, to coin a phrase. Owners have certain wants, though, and the MLB Player’s Association has others.
The players want things like more guaranteed money. The owners want more in-game action and faster games. That’s because, a few years ago, a baseball game could easily take four hours or even five. The owners felt these long games turned off an entire younger demographic, and they were probably right.
What’s the solution? Setting up a pitch clock to which the pitchers must adhere came to mind. They tried it in the minors the last year or two, but now this rule change is seeing a big-league call-up.
A pitcher must throw the ball to the plate within 15 seconds with no one on base and within 20 seconds with runners on. Since some pitchers typically take twice that time or longer, expect some major pitcher meltdowns and ejections when the rule takes effect. It should provide some real entertainment.
No More Shifts
The owners also want more offense, and that means no more shifts. A shift means the infielders, and sometimes the outfielders, realign themselves so they’ll catch the ball easier when a batter hits it.
As a fielder, you can’t defend the home run, but you can stop more righthanded hitters if you stack your defense on the field’s left side. Right-handed batters will naturally hit the ball to the diamond’s left side and vice versa.
The new baseball rules will allow outfield shifts but not infield ones. With infield shifts outlawed, we should see more balls in play. That’s the theory, anyway.
More balls in play probably mean more runs and higher batting averages. This change will likely produce more offense, and the owners should like that. Offense means action, and that might attract some younger baseball viewers.
Limited Pickoff Throws
Right now, a pitcher can throw over to first base with a runner on as many times as they like. They can do it thirty times if they feel it’s keeping a potential base-stealing threat on the bag. The new rules limit the pickoff throws a pitcher can make in between pitches.
The idea goes like this. If a pitcher can’t throw over innumerable times and hold on the runner, the runners will likely try stealing more bases. That means more excitement since the viewers like seeing stolen bases and stolen base attempts. Players haven’t stolen many bases in MLB for years, and this change could bring it back.
This rule, much like the pitch clock, hurts the pitcher more than the runner. It makes their job more difficult. Some pitchers must learn a faster delivery method. They must get the catcher the ball faster so the catcher can potentially throw out the runner.
This should create more action on the basepaths, but you have to wonder what a Hall of Famer like Ricky Henderson thinks about it. Henderson was a prolific base stealer, even without this rule. Imagine how many he would have bagged if it had been in place in his era.
Bigger bases will come this year as well. This rule also helps the runners. If a runner knows they have a slightly bigger base, stealing one becomes a more viable option.
On sports broadcasts on TV lately, when they talk about baseball, they show the current base size and the new, larger base size. Some commentators say the new one resembles a pizza box. Maybe they’re exaggerating a little, but there’s no denying it’s a significant difference when you see one sitting beside the other.
A runner who isn’t quite so fast might try stealing a base now when they wouldn’t before. In baseball, a microsecond matters on the basepaths since it can mean a stolen base or a caught stealing. Prolific base-stealers will get better with this change, but even the not very fleet of foot individuals might try stealing more often.
What Will This New Year Resemble?
It’s not hyperbole when announcers and sports pundits say Major League Baseball will look completely different this year. There’s something that’s currently unclear, though. Will these changes make for a better overall product, or will they mar the game’s competitive spirit and ruin what hardcore fans currently like about it?
It’s impossible to make that determination at the moment. Spring training starts in a few days, and the first games we see could indicate what’s coming. Spring training games don’t count, at least not in the standings, but if the players and fans like the new rules, we should quickly see that. If these rules come with some growing pains, we should notice that as well. Either way, expect fireworks and a whole new ballgame.
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