A tighter, 18-second clock with runners on base… a new, wider runner’s lane between home and first base… one less visit to the mound.
All of these rule changes are coming to Major League Baseball in 2024, as part of a series of tweaks and changes announced by MLB on Thursday. Atletico many of these proposals initially reported in early November in directors-general meetings. They were formally approved by the Competition Committee on Thursday. The most notable changes are these:
The pace clock: With runners on base, pitchers will have 18 seconds between pitches, up 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 lane: After years of complaints, MLB will widen the dirt area along the first base line by 6 inches next season. Runners have argued for years that the current runner’s lane forced them to zigzag 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 having to risk being eliminated for interference.
Fewer visits to the mounds: The number of visits to the mound will be reduced from five per team, per game, to four, although teams that have used their quota will receive one additional visit in the ninth inning, as in the past. Mound visits increased slightly in 2023, as teams began using them as a way to avoid field clock violations. But MLB says mound visits continue to rank among the least popular fan events at a game in polls. And teams have used more than four visits in only about 2% of all games this year. Another subtle change: To help tighten the pace of games, catchers will now be able to request a visit to the mound to avoid a clock violation, but won’t actually have to go through the formality of going to the mound.
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Three more changes have been made to the game speed rules:
- MLB will reduce the amount of time relievers have to warm up by 15 seconds if they are late leaving the bullpen after a mid-inning pitching change. They will now have two minutes to complete warmups from the time they leave the bullpen, instead of the previous 2:15.
- After a foul ball, the clock will start when the pitcher has the ball and all fielders have returned to their positions. The previous rule language required the clock to stop until the pitcher returned to the mound, which allowed pitchers to stop while taking their time getting back to the mound.
- Additionally, every pitcher warming up at the top of an inning will now face at least one batter. This change occurs in response to the increase in the number of times a pitching change took place after the pitcher warmed up before the start of an inning, especially after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Now, the pitcher must remain in the game for at least one more batter, 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 – where a pitcher warmed up between innings but left without facing a batter in that inning.
Three other proposed changes will not be implemented (yet). After players voiced their objection, MLB withdrew a proposal that would have required the umpire to restart the field clock immediately after a batter called timeout. There are currently no plans to pursue this change, according to Major League sources familiar with those discussions.
However, a proposed change that would tighten the language regarding base-blocking fielders is still under discussion and could be implemented by 2024.
Also still under discussion is a rule that would require all pitchers to work from the stretch with any runner on base. The owners opposed this proposal because they prefer to work from the closeout with a runner on third. And relievers are concerned as more and more people have adopted a “hybrid” delivery — part windup, part stretch — as a strategy to control the running game.
The changes announced Thursday will take effect next year, starting with spring training. MLB predicted they could reduce the average game time by about five minutes. The changes follow more than a month and a half of discussion, in which MLB and the competition committee interviewed 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)