Rules Roundup -- Rule Changes for 2023

Here, we will take a look at the new rules that have been announced for 2023. Since the 2023 rule book has not been published yet, I won't be able to provide rule book references; I'm working from articles about the new rules published on and some other media outlets. Also due to this, there are details that aren't available yet; I'll note those as I go along.

Pitch Clock

The 2023 rules will impose a time limit on how long a pitcher may take between pitches. The basic rule is that, during an at-bat, the pitcher has 15 seconds if the bases are empty, or 20 seconds if one or more runners is on base. Additionally, the catcher must be in position with nine seconds remaining. The time ends when the pitcher begins his pitching motion. (When does it start? I haven't found anything that says specifically. From watching minor league games that used the clock last year, it looks like the clock starts when the pitcher receives the ball back from the catcher, or whichever other player has it.) After the completion of an at-bat and whatever play resulted, the pitcher has 30 seconds to deliver the first pitch to the next batter. f the pitcher or catcher violates the rule, the pitcher is charged with a ball. The clock stops and resets if the pitcher steps off the rubber, or if time is called.

If the pitcher wants a new ball, he must ask with at least 8 seconds remaining. Umpires have discretion to call a violation of the catcher, or another fielder, holds onto the ball for an excessively long time.

There are time limits on the batter too. The batter has 8 seconds to get in the box and be ready to bat. Once the at-bat begins, the batter may step out of the box only once, unless the ball goes dead or a play results. Violations by the batter result in being charged with a strike.

Umpires may allow more time for any reason they see fit. So, for instance, if a foul ball hits the catcher in the head, the plate umpire may stop the clock and allow more time for the catcher to fix his helmet and get his bearings. Another situation might be if the batter fouls the ball off his foot.

The clock will be visible to the players and the fans. There will not be a horn or buzzer. The plate umpire will wear a device on his wrist that will buzz if the clock expires. It is up to the umpire to decide if a violation has occurred. Calls involving the pitch clock may not be reviewed by instant replay.

Pickoff Limits

When runners are on base, the pitcher may step off the rubber and/or attempt a pickoff twice per at-bat. If a third attempts is made, the pitcher is charged with a balk, unless that attempt results in a runner being put out. Time being requested by the defense, for any reason other than a mound visit or an injury, counts as a step-off Mound visits, and timeouts called by the offensive team or the umpires, do not count as step-offs. The pickoff count resets if a runner advances during the at-bat.

There is no limit on snap-throw pickoff attempts by the catcher. Further, an attempted pickoff by the catcher resets the pitch clock. Expect to see a lot more of these.

Mound Visits

The previous limit of five mound visits per game remains in effect. However, if a team uses all five of its mound visits before the ninth inning, it will receive an additional one at the start of the ninth.

Mound visits will be limited to 30 seconds, and the clock will be used for them. There is no specific penalty for violations; presumably the umpire will just break it up when the clock expires.

Ban the Shift!

There has been a lot of speculation the past few years about what a shift ban would actually consist of. The rule that was passed turned out to be more restrictive than I anticipated. Here is what it says:

  1. Any time the pitcher is on the rubber, the fielders must be properly aligned. They must remain so until the pitcher releases the pitch.

  2. There may be no more than three fielders lined up on the outfield grass.

  3. There must be at least two infielders (not counting the pitcher and catcher) on each side of second base. (Five-infielder alignments are still allowed, and the fifth infielder may be on either side.)

  4. Apparently an infielder cannot move to the other side of second base until after the ball is in play. This part isn't entirely clear. (Note that there is a long-standing rule that says that an infielder running across the batter's line of vision as the pitch is thrown is unsportsmanlike, and an infielder who does so can be ejected. However, I've never seen this enforced.)

A violation results in the pitch being charged as an automatic ball. However, if a play resulted, the offense can elect to take the result of the play.

An interesting aspect of the rule is that an infielder is "confined" to one side of the infield or the other when they enter the game. Infielders may not move to a position on the other side of second base. The only exception is when the defense makes a substitution. (It is not clear to me if this means any substitution, or specifically the substitution of an infielder. When the defense changes pitchers, can the infielder swap sides? It doesn't say.) Update: ESPN said in an article on 13 February that the rule has been revised to allow infielders to swap sides at the start of each inning. I haven't seen this confirmed on yet.

The change should raise BABIPs across the league, as more ground balls and low liners will get through the infield. Left-handed batters should benefit more, as they will no longer be losing flares and short fly balls to the short fielder in right.

Shift violations are subject to replay review.

Battleship Bases

Baseball bases, other than home plate, have been 15" square since time immemorial. However, the new bases will be 18" square. The stated reason is to give fielders and runners a bit more room to keep their feet/hands away from each other when they are both going to tag a base, which should be a benefit at first base particularly. However, it should also benefit runners somewhat, since they will have a bit more room to try to touch a base while avoiding a tag.

The interesting point to note here is that first base and third base will still be placed so that the entire base is in fair territory. That means that the center of each base will move 1-1/2" away from the foul line, and the edge of the bases opposite the foul line will be 3" closer to second base. Second base will remain where it is, but due to its size increase, its edges that face first and third will be 1-1/2" closer to those bases. This means that the distances between first and second, and between second and third, will now be 4-1/2" shorter than they were. This should benefit baserunners some. Also, the bigger bases mean that the distance from home plate to first, and third to home plate, decrease by 1-1/2". (Home plate itself is not changed.)

Position Players Pitching

MLB is putting stringent new limits on pitching by position players. The rules aren't finalized yet, but here's what I'm seeing in the news reports. Position players (other than designated two-way players) may pitch only if one or more of the following is true:

  • The game is in extra innings

  • Their team is ahead by at least 10 runs, and it is the 9th inning or later

  • Their team is behind by at least 8 runs

Roster Rules

The relaxation of roster rules that occurred early in 2022 will not be in place this year. From Opening Day, major league rosters will be limited to 26 players, of whom no more than 13 may be pitchers.

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