MLB is tweaking its pitch count rules with just over a week until Opening Day. According to Jeff Passan, who acquired a memo from MLB that was distributed Wednesday, the biggest points from the pitch clock changes this year will remain, but there will be a few minor changes.
The new pitch clock rules are designed to speed up baseball games, but they’ve been polarizing as teams get used to them in Spring Training. Right now, pitchers have 15 seconds to throw the ball with the bases empty and 20 seconds with a man on base. Meanwhile the batter must be alert in the box and ready to hit when there are eight seconds left on the clock. If a pitcher violates the pitch clock rules, the batter is awarded an automatic ball. If a batter violates the rules, the pitcher is awarded an automatic strike. That’s led to crazy things over the course of spring, like runs scoring on a bases-loaded pitch clock violation walk and inning-ending strikeouts because a batter wasn’t in the box soon enough.
The framework of those rules will remain, and according to notes from the memo shared by Passan players are adjusting already. In the first week of Spring Training, teams were committing 2.03 violations per game. That dropped to 1.03 violations per game in the second week. The league succeeded in speeding up games too, with average spring training game times dropping from 3:01 in 2022 to 2:36 this year.
Here are the tweaks that MLB will make to smooth things out even more, per Passan:
"• On malfunctions of the PitchCom units that allow the pitcher and catcher to communicate electronically, players must immediately inform umpires, who can grant time and stop the ticking clock. PitchCom has become a vital tool for players since its introduction last year. Perhaps as soon as this week, sources said, the league is expected to approve their use by pitchers, who with it could call their own games.
• New standards will be enforced for batboys and batgirls, whose ability to quickly retrieve equipment will help efforts to speed up the game, according to the memo. The league will evaluate the performances of batboys and batgirls and could ask teams to replace them if it's considered substandard.
• On brushback pitches and "big swings" -- which either knock equipment out of place or land a player splayed out on the ground -- umpires will delay the start of the clock and, if the clock operator starts it early, have the ability to wave off the timer.
• In situations where pitchers find themselves away from the mound -- whether to cover first base or back up throws to home or third base in foul territory -- the 30-second between-batters clock will be delayed. It restarts when the pitcher making a play at first is back on the infield grass and one backing plays up is in fair territory.
• Leniency for catchers who end an inning on base or at-bat. Umpires could turn off the 2-minute, 30-second between-innings clock at the 30-second mark if the catcher has made a "reasonable effort" to abide by the timer. If it reaches that point, a catcher will be allowed to receive one warmup pitch from the pitcher and make a throw down to second base to ensure he, too, has warmed up his arm.
• Placing the onus on hitters to restart the clock if they take a timeout. Hitters may call time once in an at-bat, and previously, the clock was starting from 15 or 20 when players stepped into the batter's box and were alert, leading to pitchers potentially holding the ball for long periods of time. Under the new guidelines, a player, regardless of where he is standing, must indicate to an umpire that he is ready to resume play, at which point the umpire will tell the operator to wind the clock."
Opening day is Mar. 30.