A tighter, 18-second pitch clock with runners on base … a new, wider runner’s lane between home and first base … one less mound visit.
All of the rule changes are coming to Major League Baseball in 2024, as part of a series of adjustments and changes made by MLB on Thursday. The Athletics initially reported on many of these proposals in early November from the general managers’ meetings. They were formally approved by the competition committee on Thursday. The most notable changes are the following:
The pitch clock: 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, 36 minutes in April to 2:44 in September.
The runner’s course: After years of complaints, MLB will widen the territory along the first base line by 6 inches next season. For years, runners argued that the current runner’s lane forced them to zig-zag between fair and foul 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 the risk of being called out for interference.
Fewer hill visits: The number of mound visits will shrink from five per team, per game to four, although teams that have used their allocation will get one extra visit in the ninth inning, as in the past. Mound visits did increase slightly in 2023, as teams began using them as a way to avoid pitch clock violations. But MLB says mound visits remain among fans’ least popular in-game events in surveys. And teams have used more than four visits in only about 2 percent of all games this year. One more subtle change: To help speed up the pace of games, catchers will now be allowed to request a mound visit to avoid a clock violation, but won’t have to actually go through the formality of going to the mound not.
Whole new ball game: MLB’s new rules changed everything
There were three other adjustments to pace-of-play rules:
- MLB will shave 15 seconds off the time relievers have to warm up if they leave the bullpen late after a mid-inning changeup. They will now have two minutes to warm up from the time they leave the bullpen, instead of the previous 2:15.
- After a foul ball, the pitch clock will start when the pitcher has the ball and all fielders have returned to their positions. The language in the previous rule required the clock to stand still until the pitcher was back on the mound, allowing pitchers to stop by taking their time returning to the mound.
- Also, any pitcher warming up at the start of an inning will now be required to face at least one hitter. That change comes in response to an increase in the number of times a pitch change occurred after a pitcher warmed up before the start of an inning — mostly after announcing a pinch hitter. Now the pitcher must stay in the game for at least one more hitter, even if the batting team has made a lineup change. According to MLB, there have been 24 occasions this season — plus two in the World Series — in which a pitcher warmed up between innings but left without facing a batter in that inning.
Three other proposed changes will not (yet) be implemented. After players voiced their objection, MLB withdrew a proposal that would have required the umpire to restart the pitch clock immediately after a batter called 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 around fielders blocking bases is still under discussion — and could still be implemented by 2024.
Also up for discussion is a rule that would require all pitchers to work down the stretch with any runner on base. Novices objected to this proposal because they preferred to work off the wind with a runner on third. And relievers have concerns as more and more have adopted a “hybrid” delivery — part windup, part — as a strategy to control the run game.
The changes announced Thursday will all take effect next year, starting in spring training. MLB has projected that they can cut the time of the average game by about five minutes. The changes follow more than a month and a half of discussion, in which MLB and the competition committee canvassed 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)