MLB Rule Changes

I couldn’t find a good image for the top of the post that I would feel comfortable using. Really, it ought to be the meme gif of the Chinese man saying “It’s all so tiresome.” Because the arguments about this and the ad hominem and invective thrown by partisans on each side are so very, very tiresome. So, while I certainly have an opinion about whether or not most of the recent rule changes are good for baseball or not, I’ll try to avoid the tedious criticism of those who hold contrary (and wrong!) opinions.

There are four basic categories of rule change. There are actually more rules changed or added than just four, but in some cases there are a handful of changes that Major League Baseball hopes will combine to create a single effect. I’m going to ignore those extraneous details unless they’re relevant individually.

Secondarily, they increased the size of the bases. Not home, but first, second, and third. Ostensibly, this is a safety measure. Larger bases means more room for the defender to hold his foot on and for a runner to cross (at first) or slide in (second and third). I’m inclined to believe this is more to encourage stealing (which goes along with other changes to be mentioned later), but whatever. This kind of change (along with moving, raising, or lowering the pitchers’ mound) is perfectly fine. It doesn’t hurt the game, it just changes some incentives at the margins to nudge behavior. Will it work? I’m dubious, but whatever.

Sixth and lastly, they’ve added a pitch clock and limited the number of times the pitcher can step off the rubber to hold runners. While I deplore clocks added to baseball, which is a leisurely, pastoral game that shouldn’t contain the ticking time pressure that features so largely in football and basketball, it is unquestionably true that this lack of a clock has been abused in recent years. Even if there isn’t a clock, umpires should have been stricter about enforcing rules prohibiting deliberate delays of the game. It’s possible to do that as a judgement call and the beauty of such a solution would be the individual nature of the umpire’s judgement (baseball being a game well-suited to individual quirks) and it would remove such decisions from being challenged by players and managers.

As to limiting the number of step-offs by instituting a balk if a pickoff is unsuccessful at any point after the second step off during an at-bat, this might encourage more steals, but again it seems that stricter enforcement of existing balk rules could also have this desired effect without the need to alter the rules.

Thirdly, the elimination of defensive shifts has been attempted through a series of rules. The infielders are required to remain on their designated sides of the diamond. (So, you can’t swap your shortstop and second baseman every other batter.) Each half of the diamond must have two infielders on it. (Can’t put your shortstop on the right-field side of second base. Can’t have two second basemen.) Lastly, each infielder must be on the infield dirt, not on the outfield grass. Each of these positioning rules stipulates where the infielders must be at the time of each pitch. So they can move with the play, but must start in a certain place. I’m curious to see if anyone tries a kind of CFL-style motion play. Put the shortstop in motion so he has a jump on getting into short right by the time the ball is hit. Frankly, I’d love to see that. Unintended side effects of blithe changes are full of sweet schadenfreude.

And to conclude (they are lying knaves; because in almost all official MLB notices they ignore this change), in extra innings they’re going to make permanent the change which adds “ghost runners” to second base as each team comes to bat. My understanding is that the runner is the last batter out the prior inning, but whatever. This is an abomination and an affront to all true Americans. Baseball was one of the last holdouts in all the major sports in continuing to have just additional time added until one team takes the lead at the end of the specified additional period. Football went to ties, soccer and hockey have shootouts, but now baseball changes the rules and makes itself into a different game in extra innings. The only way they could have degraded it more would be to use a home run derby to decide games after nine.

I dunno. No one cares what I think, and I sure won’t change anything by complaining. But I haven’t been to an MLB game since they started tinkering with all this kind of thing during the Covid panic. I guess I might still go; I’d like to finish visiting all the teams in their home parks with my dad. Minor league baseball is fun, but it’s hard not to feel like the game I loved is too much changed.

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