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September 09, 2022

MLB kills the shift, implements pitch clock for 2023

No more shift should be good news for Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber

The shift is dead and the pitch clock is on its way.

Major League Baseball's competition committee approved three rule changes on Friday that will drastically change how the modern game is played from 2023 onward.

First up is the infield shift, which now dictates that teams must have two infielders on either side of second base with their feet inside the dirt before a pitch. Infielders will no longer be able to switch sides of the field (for example, the third baseman can't run out of position to the right side for an at-bat) and if fielders aren't aligned properly at the time of the pitch, the batter has a choice between an automatic ball or the result of the play. 

The change was made with the intention of increasing batting averages and forcing fielders to use more athleticism. But obviously, the change is going to heavily benefit lefthanded hitters who have notoriously batted into the shift for years, which for the Phillies right now is Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. 

Darick Hall who's down in Triple-A Lehigh Valley right now, is aware of this too.

The pitch clock will be implemented to keep games moving and has been tested down in the minors for a while with great results (faster game times, less pickoff attempts and checks, more stolen bases, etc.). In the majors next season, there will be a 30-second timer between batters, 20 seconds between pitches with no one on base, and 15 seconds with runners on. 

Pitchers who violate the timer will be charged with an automatic ball and batters in violation will be charged with a strike. Batters must also be in the box and alert to the pitcher by the eight-second mark or else they will also be charged a strike. 

Pitchers are allowed two pickoff attempts or step-offs per plate appearance with the timer resetting after each one. On a third pickoff attempt is made and unsuccessful, the runner will automatically advance to the next base. 

Finally, the bases will expand from 15 inches square up to 18 inches. The change will make for a slightly shorter distance between bases, which should encourage more steal attempts and potentially reduce collisions and oversliding with a bit more space to work with. The size of home plate will remain unchanged. 

MLB's competition committee consists of six owners, four players, and an umpire, but the vote was not unanimous per ESPN's Jeff Passan. The players did not approve of the shift restrictions and the pitch-clock implementation. 

Said the MLB Players Association in a statement:

"Players live the game – day in and day out. On-field rules and regulations impact their preparation, performance, and ultimately, the integrity of the game itself. Player leaders from across the league were engaged in on-field rules negotiations through the Competition Committee, and they provided specific and actionable feedback on the changes proposed by the Commissioner’s Office. Major League Baseball was unwilling to meaningfully address the areas of concern that Players raised, and as a result, Players on the Competition Committee voted unanimously against the implementation of the rules covering defensive shifts and the use of a pitch timer."

That said, players may not have been entirely opposed to either of the two new rules. Via Jesse Rogers of ESPN out in Chicago, Cubs outfielder, and the team's union rep, Ian Happ said time to ease into the changes would be appreciated.

Spring training may serve as the time to get adjusted. However, it's unclear if the new rules will apply to the World Baseball Classic in March, which may be to the detriment of stars leaving their clubs to play in the international tournament (Harper and J.T. Realmuto are players already committed to Team USA next spring).

The new rules add to a 2023 season that was already set to shift the baseball landscape, bringing on a schedule that, for the first time, would have every MLB team play one another at least once

At the same time, the MLBPA is moving unionize more than 5,000 minor leaguers ahead of next season. 

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