We are just over a month into the 2023 baseball season, but the rule changes implemented over the offseason already have a significant impact on the game. From new pitch clocks to bigger bases, baseball put a big focus on making the game faster and more entertaining, which has paid off so far. As someone who watches baseball most of the season, I can't help but wonder if these changes will change baseball's momentum for good.
Before this season, baseball was starting to lose viewership, which was a result of the long duration of most games. With plenty of stoppages during contests, the average length of a game last year was just over three hours. Even the biggest and most loyal baseball fans were starting to voice their concern about the increasing times of each game. There were even some games where I was relieved for it to be over regardless of who won.
As a result of the growing complaints, the MLB spent the offseason prioritizing ways to make games shorter. With an abundance of new rules, games are already looking drastically different than before. For one, the time it takes before and during at-bats is a lot shorter than in years past. Pitchers now have 30 seconds to throw a pitch in between batters, along with a 15 second clock during pitches with no one on base, and a 20 second clock with runners on. Hitters will also be held accountable during their at-bats. They must be in the batter's box by the time there's eight seconds left, or else they'll be charged with a strike.
In addition, the MLB also set out to make rules more favorable for offenses with the banning of the shift and bigger bases. Defenses are now required to place two players on each side of the infield, while the size of bases have jumped from 15 inches square to 18. Both rules are major attempts to generate excitement in hopes of giving some of the game's most talented players more opportunities to flourish. All-stars such as Shohei Ohtani, who's hit 80 home runs in the last two years, and Trea Turner, who's stolen more bases than anyone else since 2016, will now be even more dangerous thanks to these changes.
It's still early in the season, but the effects from the new rules can't be ignored. The average length for an MLB game is almost 30 minutes shorter than last season at two and a half hours, while hitting has also seen a significant jump compared to years past. This has ultimately caused a rapid increase in ratings during the young season. Opening day saw the minutes in viewership go up by 42 percent, and the league has maintained that success so far.
Players are still getting used to the rule changes, which is evident given the strikes and balls called due to clock violations whether it's the batter or the pitcher. Some at-bats have literally been determined by the pitch clock, as seen in a Red Sox Braves spring training game where the umpire determined the batter wasn't ready to hit on a 3-2 count with two outs, and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game.
I can personally say that although the Yankees have currently been disappointing, this is indeed a nice welcome change. You can now tolerate watching the sport without having to worry about it taking over your entire evening. This is a busy time of year for sports, with the NBA and NHL playoffs going on, but the number of fans tuning in is an encouraging sign. If baseball is seeing plenty of favorable results at this time of year, imagine how many will be watching during the summer and into the fall.