New MLB rules are working as intended a week into the season: fastest games since the 1980s, higher averages, more

The 2023 MLB season is barely a week old, and we’ve learned a lot already. The Rays are the best team since the Yankees in 1998, the Astros and Phillies are doomed, Adam Duvall and Brian Anderson are the best hitters in baseball, etc. OK, that’s not how the sport works, but it was a fun and eventful first. few days of the season.

This is a landmark season for MLB. The league has implemented several new rules which, in the simplest terms, are designed to make more things happen. Less waiting for something to happen and more stuff happening, basically. There’s a pitch timer, extreme changes are prohibited, and the bases themselves are bigger. Here’s everything you need to know about the new rules.

Now that we’re about a week into the season, let’s take a look at the impact of the new rules on the game, shall we? We will do it.

Much improved pace

On Tuesday night, the Marlins and Twins played a return game in Miami. Defending NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara had a three-hit shutout in the 1-0 win and the game lasted just 1:57. There’s been one nine-inning game under 2:00 in 2020-22 (the Cardinals and Rays played a 1:54 game last June 9) and there’s only been three games in that type from 2016 to 22.

Thanks in large part to the pitch clock, the average game time has dropped to 2:38 through nine innings this season. It was 3:03 last season and 2:38 is the lowest since 1984 (2:35). The launch timer – 15 seconds with bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on – isn’t really about game time. It’s about reducing dead time in games, and games more shorts are a by-product.

Here are, via Statcast, the “pace” numbers for the start of this season. This is the average time between pitches within an at-bat, so not counting the final pitch of one at-bat and the first pitch of the next at-bat:

  • 2019: 22.9 seconds
  • 2020: 23.2 seconds
  • 2021: 23.7 seconds
  • 2022: 23.1 seconds
  • 2023: 18.6 seconds

The decline from 2021 to 2022 can be attributed to PitchCom. Not everyone used it, but many pitchers did, and the system allowed them to not look at the catcher for signs. This improved the pacing of the game a bit.

Look at this number 2023 though! Statcast was launched in 2015 and 18.6 seconds is by far the lowest pace ever. The previous record was 22.5 seconds in 2018. League pace is down 4.5 seconds by location. That’s 4.5 seconds less for the pitcher fidgeting, the batter adjusting his batting gloves, and photos of fans looking at their phones.

It’s also 4.5 seconds less tension in the final sets of close matches. This tension, however, has not been eliminated. It still exists, only in a condensed state. To each their own, but to me, a few extra seconds of tension late in the game aren’t worth a lot of extra seconds from guys standing up earlier in the game. The last rounds have not lacked excitement so far.

When it comes to pitch timer violations, teams average 0.80 violations per game early on, with the majority going to pitchers (especially relievers). Tuesday, Manny Machado became the first player ejected for pleading a height clock violationthough he maintained that he called time before he was hit with the violation, not the violation itself.

Teams averaged nearly 1.50 pitch timer violations per game the first week of spring training, and gradually reduced it to 0.80. This number will never be zero, although it will decrease further as players adapt. In Triple-A last season, teams averaged nearly two violations per game in the first week of the season, and were down to one violation every two games a few weeks later.

The launch timer works exactly as intended at the start of the new season. There is less downtime between pitches and the game runs much better, and as a result matches are shorter. On average, they are 25 minutes shorter than last season. That’s 25 minutes to literally do something else with your life.

The limit of extreme changes

The new anti-shift rules will be the hardest rule change to assess throughout the season. I can tell you this: the attack is in place at the start. The league is hitting .250/.323/.413 with a BABIP of .297 right now. In the first six days of last year, it was 0.231/0.312/0.379 with a BABIP of 0.279. BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, has increased significantly, albeit unusually:

Left-handed hitters, the hitters most affected by the change, have a .246/.328/.421 batting line with a .290 BABIP coming into play Wednesday. They had a .229/.323/.362 line with a .274 BABIP the first six days of last season. It’s early days, but left-handers are once again outperforming right-handers. The reverse was true in recent years due to change (mostly).

We know offense is up, especially among left-handed hitters. The “why” is more difficult to answer. What is the limit of extreme changes? Circuits are up early. The weather has been abnormally hot in the northeast. There are pitchers who may feel time pressed and have seen their execution suffer. There are many potential factors here.

It is unclear to what extent the extreme change limit contributes to the increase in offense, specifically the increase in batting average. That’s what we all want, right? Higher batting averages? The kicks and balls in play are fun and exciting, and there were more of them this year than last. I’m sure the anti-shift rules play a part in this. How much, exactly? Uh, very hard to say.

The stolen bases are in place

Throwers are now limited to two disengages (pickup throw, mound exit, etc.) per board appearance and I underestimated how much this would improve the spectator experience. Pickoff pitches and pitches are deeply annoying (there’s a reason the crowd boos pickoff pitches). I understand strategy and their use in rider gear, but reader, they’re boring.

Between the pitcher disengage limit and larger bases, runners have more advantage on base paths, and they take advantage of it. There have been 101 stolen bases so far this season. There were 61 stolen bases in six days last year. Here are the stolen base numbers:
















An increase of 0.10 attempts per game and eight percentage points in completion rate equates to a lot – A LOT – more steals during the 162-game season. MLB is currently on pace with 3,107 stolen bases completed. That would be the most since 2012 (3,229) and up from 2,486 last year. Again, it’s early days, but there’s been a marked uptick in interceptions so far this season.

Six days into the new season, MLB rule changes are working as intended. The pace of play is greatly improved thanks to the pitch timer, there are more hits thanks in part to limiting extreme moves, and there are also more stolen bases. More stuff happening and less waiting for it to happen. I found it all very refreshing.

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