Here's a look at baseball's new pitch clock, larger bases MLB hopes will liven up the game
Baseball will not only be played with new rules in 2023. The game will also look different.
MLB revealed Tuesday the larger bases and the pitch clocks that will adorn diamonds starting this spring. The clocks are hard to miss, and the bases are noticeably larger than the previous iteration.
The physical changes to the game accompany a set of new rules intended to increase action and decrease game time. Alongside limitations on defensive shifts and the permanent renewal of the extra-innings runner, the changes are part of a concerted effort to increase interest in the game.
MLB introduced the new bases and game clocks to media Tuesday in Scottsdale, Arizona, one day before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training. We've known since September that the base size would increase from 15x15 inches to 18x18. Now we know what that looks like.
Here's the new MLB base lined up alongside the retired version:
Baseball is hoping the larger surface area will encourage more stolen base attempts, a dwindling art that also happens to be one of the game's most exciting plays.
The decline of the stolen base
Per Baseball Almanac, MLB players successfully stole a total of 2,487 bases in 2022. While that was an increase on the 2,214 bases stolen the year prior, it still represents a dramatic decline from the 15-year peak of 3,279 stolen bases in 2011. The total from last season marked a 24.2% drop from that high.
The recent numbers aren't an aberration. Every season from 1982 to 1993 saw MLB players successfully steal 3,000-plus bases. Extend the time frame to 1999, and 16 of 18 seasons saw 3,000-plus steals. But only twice since 2002 has baseball broken the 3,000-steal barrier.
As offenses have struggled to put balls in play for various reasons, including the shift, they've relied increasingly on home runs to produce — a strategy that leans toward all-or-nothing results. Simply getting on base and seeking steals has become less of a priority. This tends to produce long lulls in action, a suboptimal circumstance for a fan base with a dwindling attention span.
Let's speed things up
Baseball's also hoping to avoid marathon games going forward. Per Baseball Reference, the average nine-inning game in 2022 clocked in at 3:03. A year prior, games averaged 3:11 per nine innings. Turn the clock back to 1984, and baseball games whizzed by at an efficient 2:35 per nine-inning contest. Game length has steadily increased since.
Enter the pitch clock:
Nobody's missing that.
Pitch clocks will be placed around ball parks where both hitters and batters can see them. Hitters must be in the box and ready to face a pitch within eight seconds. If not, it's a strike. With the bases empty, pitchers must be engaged in their pitching motion by 15 seconds. If not, it's a ball. With men on base, pitchers are allowed 20 seconds.
The clock starts when the batter and catcher are in their respective positions near home plate and the pitcher has the ball. There's a 30-second clock between batters, and mound visits will be limited to 30 seconds.
This will, of course, require adjustments in a game that's notoriously slow to evolve. Players, managers and umpires will face a new set of challenges starting in spring training. There will be growing pains, but MLB is counting on those growing pains paying off in the long run.