MLB's Rule Changes Won't Affect the Big Train...Yet

by Jack McGuire

Throughout the 150 plus years of baseball’s existence, the game has transformed. Change and modifications have been themes in the history of America’s pastime. 

In 1884, the National League — the predominant league at the time— legalized the overhand delivery. After reducing the number of balls for a walk from nine to eight to seven and then to six, in 1889, the National League finally set it at four, the number we are familiar with today. In 1969, Major League Baseball (MLB) lowered the pitching mound by five inches and made the strike zone smaller after 1968’s “Year of the Pitcher”. Baseball is a constantly evolving game, but that does not mean fans of the sport do not take significant change lightly. And in 2023, baseball fans are going to face some of the sport’s most significant changes, including the introduction of a clock.

This season, baseball has continued to evolve with MLB implementing a number of new rules. These rules include a pitch timer, restrictions on the infield shift and bigger bases. The NCAA followed the lead of the MLB and tightened restrictions on their existing pitch clock rule. Despite these other leagues making changes, the Cal Ripken Senior Collegiate Baseball League (CRCBL) will not be adopting new rules for this upcoming season. The Big Train will continue to play the same brand of baseball they have played in the past.

In the MLB, longer games with significant time in between action inspired the league to create an aggressive pitch clock they have been testing at the minor league level for several years. After that successful pilot program, the pitch clock will now be a feature of games at Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and every other stadium across the country at baseball's highest level. 

The new rules state that pitchers have 15 seconds to start their pitching motion with the bases empty and 20 seconds to begin their pitching motion with runners on base, or the umpire will call a ball. Batters, in turn, also have to be “alert to the pitcher” with eight seconds left on the pitch clock, or the umpire will call a strike. Pitchers are also limited to only two “disengagements” (pick-offs, step-offs, etc.) from the mound per batter. On the third disengagement, the pitcher will need to throw out the baserunner, or the umpire will call a balk. MLB predicts that these changes will shorten games by 25 minutes and increase stolen base attempts by 26%. 

The new NCAA rules are less aggressive. Since 2020, Division I baseball has had a 20 second pitch-clock, but the league gave pitchers unlimited disengagements from the mound, and there was no in-stadium pitch clock with a live countdown. Umpires have been keeping the time surreptitiously on stopwatches. This year, the NCAA is still giving pitchers unlimited disengagements that result in a pickoff attempt, but pitchers only have one disengagement that results in the ball staying in their hand. College baseball naturally has a quicker pace and more stolen bases than MLB, so more aggressive rule changes make less sense. The CRCBL, which features mostly Division I players, has a similar pace to college baseball, so MLB’s new rules also seem unnecessary. 

“College pitchers all tend to be much quicker workers than pro pitchers,” said Dali Pomfret, a pitcher at Division III Haverford College. “None of my teammates have had any issue with it yet.”

While Big Train manager Sal Colangelo says that these new changes won’t affect baseball at Povich Field, that does not mean changes to the rules in college baseball will not trickle down to the CRCBL eventually.

MLB’s other rule changes are similar to the pitch clock; they make sense for professional leagues, but not for amateur leagues. MLB’s new infield shift restrictions mandate that all four infielders stand on the dirt and that two infielders must stand on either side of second base when the pitcher starts their delivery. MLB says shift restrictions will increase the league batting average and decrease strikeouts, in other words, increasing on-field action. Also, to reduce injuries and increase stolen bases, MLB is increasing the size of the bases from 15 inches to 18 inches. Amateur leagues, like NCAA Division I baseball and the CRCBL have more balls in play and more stolen bases than the MLB, so these rules will not be in effect for either league this season.