A week into the MLB season, the rule changes are overall a huge success. It seems fans and players are overwhelmingly appreciative of the changes.
Even pitchers, who tend to be whiners and routine freaks, see change as an opportunity. Max Scherzer has spent spring training using the pitch clock to his advantage, both holding the ball in the set position for as long as he can and throwing quick shots.
While most are on board, there are some extreme baseball traditionalists who still aren’t fans. And I’m not just talking about Manny Machado taking up the sword to go on a children’s crusade against the clock.
For example, here’s an excerpt from Battery Power of SB Nation: “I’m not going to fume too much here, but the combination of expanded playoffs and these changes is a very clear MLB sign saying to me, ‘stop looking.’ . Am I going to listen? Who knows.”
There is a small but vocal contingency of fans who think the new rules, like every change to the game, have ruined it. If you’ve ever been to a baseball game, you’ve probably talked to them or at least overheard them.
I was at an MLB game last season when a foul ball hit the net way out the side of first base when the guy sitting in front of me said without irony, “The nets have ruined baseball.” THE NETS? So what are you doing here? If the game is ruined, go home. If someone was athletic enough to catch a 110mph batted ball with their bare hands while seated, they would be in the game instead of paying to watch it.
But I digress. The fact is, for some baseball traditionalists, rule changes like the pitch clock change the game that has remained fundamentally the same for over 100 years. The thing is, audiences “back in the day” should like the changes, because it actually makes the game much more similar to what they grew up with.
Shorter games for shorter attention spans
The average length of a game this season is two hours and 38 minutes. The last time it was this short was in 1981. As of this writing, teams are stealing 0.64 bases per game, down from 0.51 last season, and are much more reminiscent of the 80s and 90.
The new rule changes do not change baseball. Baseball itself was changing, and these rules correct it.
If you heard someone say during spring training that these rules would ruin the game and they weren’t going to watch, just know that they were lying. Nobody really watches because they enjoy watching pitchers throw four pick-offs in a row or batters readjusting their batting gloves after a called strike. That SB Nation writer? He also watches, no matter what he threatens.
If MLB had just announced the pitch clock in a top-secret, league-wide memo, requiring everyone to sign NDAs, and never told the public, then no one would. would have even noticed unless there was a strike or a called ball due to a clock violation pitch. No one would object to players having a sense of urgency.
We know because they’ve had these rules in the minor leagues for two seasons now and no one has. Fans complaining about the new rules likely watched a minor league game with subtly larger bases from the stands and didn’t notice.
Moreover, 15 seconds to throw a throw, it’s not that short. You do not believe me ? Sit down and do nothing for 15 seconds. Do you remember a time when you were more bored?
Besides the pitch clock, the other big change was limiting lag. For a long time I was against the shift ban. I didn’t like the idea of punishing defenses because hitters refuse to try to hit the other way or bunt. My stance on this has softened in part because more basic hits are, in fact, more fun to watch.
Like other rule changes, limiting change also brings baseball closer to what it was at the height of its popularity. Frequent moving on the pitch is a recent development, with defenses moving on 10% of plate appearances in 2015, rising to 34% in 2022.
In short, I think the people complaining about the rule changes were just looking for something to complain about. The product in the field has improved significantly almost overnight, and I dare say that’s a good thing.