Major League Baseball spring training began last week and there is an unfamiliar feeling for those who watch their first pre-regular season game. MLB has instituted several new rules and changes and the size of bases. Previously the bases were 15 inches. They’ve been increased to 18, with the exception of home plate. The distance between first and second base, and between second and third base, has been decreased by 4.5 inches from the traditional 90 feet.
The change gives infielders and base runners more space to maneuver. The shift has been eliminated. Now, the infield defenses must have a minimum of four players in the infield, with at least two infielders stationed on each side of second base. The most difficult adjustment for players has been the addition of a time clock. Pitchers are now required to begin their pitch motion 15 seconds after receiving the ball if the bases are empty and 20 seconds after receiving the ball with runners on base. Failure to do so will add a ball to the batter’s count.
Pitchers will be limited to two disengagements from the mound per hitter. For example, a pickoff attempt stepping off the mound with a runner on first. For hitters, they have to be in the batter’s box ready to face the pitcher by the 8-second mark on the clock. A violation will result in an automatic strike to their count.
The first player to be penalized for this infraction was San Diego Padres star third-baseman Manny Machado. Machado, who signed an 11-year, $350 million extension with the Padres earlier this week, was not set in an at-bat in a game last Friday against the Seattle Mariners. He failed to place his left foot inside of the batter’s box within the 8-second limit.
“That time came by quick,” Machado said after the game. “It’s going to be an interesting year… Who knows where this leads. There’s going to be a lot of strategy that goes into this.”
The goal of MLB’s Joint Competition Committee who created and approved the changes is to make the games shorter in terms of hours and minutes played, safer for base runners, and to increase the potential for runs scored.