More than two months into the 2023 season, Major League Baseball’s new rules have changed the game for the better in most people’s eyes.
Offense is up, so are stolen bases, and the average game is about a half-hour faster than it was a year ago — two hours, 35 minutes.
Pitchers have 15 seconds to throw a pitch, 20 with a runner on base. Infield shifts are banned, and pitchers are limited to two unsuccessful pickoff attempts.
“I like it. I think it speeds the game,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “Pitch clock, it surprises me now when it’s a violation because I don’t look at the clock anymore. Speed back in the game is great. No shift I think is a good thing. It’s all worked extremely well, all the new rules.”
Orioles second baseman Adam Frazier is a supporter, but has some reservations. He finds some benefits when playing in the field.
“It’s faster, being a defender,” he said. “Less time on defense usually helps the legs. It’s a quicker game. You can’t really be mad about it as a defensive player. Offensively, it gets quick at times, and I think some pitchers have taken advantage of it.”
Batters are supposed to be ready to hit with eight seconds left on the clock.
“You’re supposed to wait for the guy to look up,” Frazier said. “There’s a difference in looking up and ready to hit so I guess that would be the drawback that some guys can use it to their advantage … I think it’s fine. Everyone’s pretty much used to it. It’s done what they’ve tried to do. It’s done what the goal was.”
Tuesday’s Orioles starter Kyle Gibson proudly refers to himself as a traditionalist, and there are adjustments he’d like to see.
“I think if they did a 20-second pitch clock the whole time instead of 15, it would be better,” Gibson said.
Players have adjusted to the rules, and so have the umpires. Early in the season, the Chicago Cubs’ Cody Bellinger was assessed a strike penalty because he wasn’t ready to hit in time. Home plate umpire Jim Wolf penalized him because Bellinger was acknowledging an ovation upon his return to Dodger Stadium.
There aren’t any stories like that any longer.
“Umpires have gotten a good feel when they can reset [the clock] to help everybody,” Gibson said. “They’re probably not as worried about, ‘Can I reset it right now?’ They’re just doing it. If I’m covering first base and it ends up being a bang-bang play and I’m halfway to the outfield, they’ve been resetting it. They’re giving me a little bit more time, so I think stuff like that, it’s good.”
As a student of the game, Gibson objects to the uniformity of the defense.
“Some teams didn’t shift,” he said. “It still puts an importance on where you place your fielders. It’s not like it takes that away. It still is important where you shade them, where you have them and if you have guys that can field the baseball.”
Pitchers can’t step off the rubber when there aren’t runners on base. Disengagements with runners on are counted as unsuccessful pickoff attempts.
“I think a starting pitcher, or any pitcher for that matter, with nobody on base you ought to be able to step off and get one reset,” Gibson said. “The hitter gets a timeout every at-bat and then all of a sudden, with nobody on base, we don’t get a way to step off. That’s silly.”
Frazier defers when asked if the game has improved with the new rules.
“Ask the fans that one,” he said. “The lack of a shift have [made] it a little bit better for fans, I think.”
The shorter games do help, he believes. On May 31st, the Cleveland Guardians and Orioles played a 12-8 game. At 3 hours, 11 minutes, it was six minutes longer than the average game of 2022, but it was the Orioles’ third-longest nine-inning game this season.
“Even when you have long innings, with Cleveland when they got to us, the game still only took three hours [11 minutes],” he said. “Normally that would be a four-hour game with that much offense.”
While the players had votes on the competition committee that implemented the new rules, they don’t comprise a majority. They voted against all the new rules—except for the one that mandated larger bases.
“The traditionalist in me says no for the pitch clock,” Gibson said. “I enjoyed it being one of the only sports without a clock. You’ve got to get 27 outs, no matter how long it takes. At the end of the day, I think most fans just want to see their team win, regardless of how long it takes.
“I was originally against banning the shift,” he said. “I think there’s a big field out there and the only rule [is] that everybody but one guy has to play in fair territory. Put them wherever you want.”
On May 3rd, Gibson pitched in the shortest Orioles game since 2010, a 6-0 loss to Kansas City in one hour, 59 minutes. That wasn’t necessarily progress to him.
“If I can play a four-hour game and I was guaranteed to win 110 of them, and we go to the playoffs and do well, I don’t care how long they take,” Gibson said. “I don’t think a home crowd is going to care. I don’t think they’re walking out of the stadium after the Orioles win, ‘Yeah, but man wouldn’t it have been nicer if they won in two hours, 40 minutes instead of three hours and 30?”
Gibson may be a traditionalist, but he’s also a pragmatist.
“If less time between action is the goal, OK,” he said. “I still think at the end of the day, there needs to be an importance on players and the best players playing the game to the best of their ability, and as long as the rules aren’t hindering that, I think the game should be OK.”