A tighter, 18-second pitch clock with runners on base … a new, wider runner’s lane between home and first base … one fewer mound visit.
All those rule changes are coming to Major League Baseball in 2024, as part of a series of tweaks and changes announced by MLB on Thursday. The Athletic initially reported on many of these proposals in early November from the general managers’ meetings. They were formally approved by the competition committee Thursday. The most notable changes are these:
The pitch clock: With runners on base, pitchers will have 18 seconds between pitches, down 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 argued for years that the current runner’s lane forced them to zig-zag 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 called out for interference.
Fewer mound visits: The number of mound visits will shrink from five per team, per game to four, although teams that have used their allotment will get one extra visit in the ninth inning, as in the past. Mound visits did increase slightly in 2023, because teams began using them as a way to avoid pitch-clock violations. But MLB says mound visits continue to rank, in surveys, among fans’ least popular events in a game. And teams used more than four visits in only about 2 percent of all games this year. One other subtle change: To help tighten the pace of games, catchers now will be allowed to call for a mound visit to avoid a clock violation but will not actually have to go through the formality of going to the mound.
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There were three other tweaks to pace-of-game rules:
- MLB will shave 15 seconds off the time relievers have to warm up if they’re late leaving the bullpen after a mid-inning pitching change. They will now have two minutes to complete warming up, from the time they leave the bullpen, instead of the previous 2:15.
- After a foul ball, the pitch clock will start when the pitcher has the ball and all fielders have made it back to their positions. The language in the previous rule required the clock to pause until the pitcher was back on the mound, which allowed pitchers to stall by taking their time in returning to the mound.
- Also, any pitcher who warms up at the start of an inning now will be required to face at least one hitter. That change comes in response to an increase in the number of times in which a pitching change took place after a pitcher had warmed up before the start of an inning — mostly after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Now, the pitcher must remain in the game for at least one more hitter, even if the batting team has made a lineup switch. According to MLB, there were 24 occasions this season — plus two in the World Series — in which a pitcher warmed up between innings but departed without facing a hitter 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 pitch clock immediately after a batter called timeout. There are now no plans to move forward with that change, according to major-league sources familiar with those discussions.
However, a proposed change that would tighten the language around fielders blocking bases is still under discussion — and could still be implemented for 2024.
Also still being discussed is a rule that would require all pitchers to work from the stretch with any runner on base. Starters have objected to that proposal because they prefer to work from the windup with a runner on third. And relievers have concerns as more and more have adopted a “hybrid” delivery — part-windup, part-stretch — as a strategy to control the running game.
The changes announced Thursday all will take effect next year, starting in spring training. MLB has projected that they could tighten the time of the average game by about five minutes. The changes follow more than a month and a half of discussion, in which MLB and the competition committee surveyed players, managers, coaches, front offices and owners on how each idea would affect the game.
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(Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn / Minnesota Twins / Getty Images)