I consider myself to be a traditionalist when it comes to the game of baseball. I love the game for what it is, including its quirks and peculiarities. However, I recognize that sometimes changes do need to be made.
Prior to the beginning of the 2023 Major League Baseball season, the league announced a multitude of new rule changes, including a pitch clock, shift ban and more. The majority of these changes were made with the motivation to make MLB games shorter and more exciting, in order to make the sport appeal more towards young fans.
This has been an issue with Major League Baseball for at least the last decade. According to Front Office Sports, the average age of MLB fans is 57 years old, much older than that of NBA and NFL fans.
Why is this the case? Because NBA and NFL games have more action, more stars and are more exciting. A three and a half hour baseball game with a final score of 2-1 may be enthralling for die-hard fans like myself, but for the majority of young fans it is incredibly boring.
If Major League Baseball wants to continue its slow slide towards fewer and fewer fans, then sticking with the 2022 rules would have been just fine. But to actually save itself from becoming the next NHL, it needs to appeal more to the younger generations.
As of April 21, average game times have dropped from 3 hours and 4 minutes in 2022 to 2 hours and 37 minutes in 2023. Without the shift, the league-wide batting average on balls in play has risen by 19%. Runs-scored per game have risen from 8.5 in 2022 to 9.1 in 2023. And from the perspective of a fan who watches a game almost everyday, the viewing experience has been significantly more enjoyable.
Some fixes will certainly need to be made to the new rules, specifically the ones that interfere with the game itself.
For example, starting this season, pitchers are only allowed two “disengagements” per batter. A “disengagement” includes pickoffs, fake pickoffs, or any time the pitcher steps off of the rubber on the mound. This raises the number of stolen bases in games, which does increase action.
However, multiple times this season, pitchers have used up both of their disengagements in one batter. Since they are unable to attempt to pick off the runners anymore in that plate appearance, baserunners are then able to get massive jumps, making it all but impossible for the defense to throw them. This does lead to more action, but it also severely limits pitchers’ ability to control the running game, which I believe is a significant part of baseball itself.
While this rule needs some tweaking, as do a few others, the growing pains that come with change are worthwhile. What the MLB needs is faster and more exciting games, and the new rules have given them just that, while largely avoiding interference in the art of baseball itself.