NEW YORK – Major League Baseball is set to announce a pitch clock and limits on defensive shifts next season in an effort to shorten games and increase offense.
The sport’s 11-man competition committee is set to adopt the rules changes Friday, mandating a clock that will count down 15 seconds with no runners on base and 20 seconds with runners. The MLB clock will be slightly longer than the version experimented with in the minor leagues this season: 14 seconds with the bases empty and 19 seconds with runners on at Triple-A, and 14/18 at lower levels.
“It’s something that takes a while to get used to, but I think overall the impact it had on the pace of the game was good,” said the Yankees’ Matt Carpenter, who spent April at Triple-A with Round Rock.
The shift limit will require four players other than the pitcher and the catcher to be in front of the outfield grass when a pitch is thrown, including two of the four on either side of second base,
In addition, there will be a limit during each plate appearance of two pickoff attempts or steps off the rubber, what MLB calls disengagements. If a third attempt is made and is unsuccessful, a balk would be called. The limit would be reset to two during a plate appearance if a runner advances.
Size of bases will increase to 18-inch squares from 15, promoting safety — first basemen are less likely to get stepped on — but also boosting stolen bases and offense with a slightly decreased distance.
The plans, first reported by The Athletic, were detailed by a pair of baseball officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the changes were not scheduled to be announced until Friday.
The changes will be start during spring training.
A catcher will be required to be in the catcher’s box with nine seconds left on the clock and a hitter in the batter’s box and focused on the pitcher with eight seconds remaining. Penalties for violations will be a ball called against a pitcher and a strike called against a batter.
Time between half-innings will set at 2:15 for most regular-season games, 2:40 for nationally televised games and 3:10 for postseason games. The clock will be 30 seconds between batters.
A batter can ask an umpire for time once per plate appearance, and after that it would be granted only at umpire’s discretion if request is made while in box.
The clock has reduced the average time of a nine-inning game in the minor leagues from 3:04 in 2021 to 2:38 this season. The average time of a nine-inning game in the major leagues this year is 3:06 — it was 2:46 in 1989, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“It’s slow. It’s boring,” Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said of a TV broadcast in 2017. “Man, it’s so hard to watch if you have no interest in it.”
Shifts have been limited all season at Double-A and Class A, where teams are required to have four players on the infield, including two on each side of second base.
Use of shifts has exploded in the past decade, from 2,357 times on balls hit in play in 2011 to 28,130 in 2016 and 59,063 last year, according to Sports Info Solutions. Shifts are on pace for 68,000 this season.
The big league batting average of .243 this year in on track to be the lowest since 1967, two years before the pitcher's mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10.
Players had long resisted a clock at the major league level. Management gained the right in March's lockout settlement to establish the 11-person committee, which includes six management representatives, four players and one umpire.
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