Boston Red Sox

Oct 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; A general view during the National Anthem before game three of the 2021 ALDS between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, news on the baseball lockout that concerns the actual baseball.

Jon Heyman reported Sunday night that the Major League Baseball Players Association has agreed to allow MLB to implement at least three rule changes in 2023 that are designed to improve baseball’s on-field product. Heyman tweeted that MLB aims to “streamline the process and add excitement [to] the game.”

Note that the changes are expected to be implemented in 2023, meaning there will be at least one more season under baseball’s current rules.

  • MLB games are poised to look dramatically different in 2023, based on the rules that the players union has agreed to allow clubs to implement. Here are the three big rule changes to know about on the baseball diamond.

    Pitch Clock

    Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Boston Red Sox looks on in between batters during the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 31, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

    Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Boston Red Sox looks on in between batters during the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 31, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

    According to Jesse Rogers at ESPN.com, MLB plans to institute a 14-second pitch clock with the bases empty and 19 seconds with runners on base. Recent experiments in the minor leagues helped baseball ultimately land on the two numbers.

    According to Baseball Prospectus data provided to The Ringer, 82 percent of major league pitchers averaged 15 seconds or fewer between pitches with the bases empty, while only 15 percent of pitchers averaged 17 seconds or fewer with runners on base. The pitch clock did prove successful in the Low-A West League, where the average game length dropped by 21 minutes.

    That makes the pitch clock an obvious choice for a change that will shorten the overall length of games and improve pacing, especially if batters continue to walk and strike out at the rate they have in recent years.

  • No Defensive Shifts

    Cole Irvin #19 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against Joey Gallo #13 of the Texas Rangers during the fourth inning at Globe Life Field on July 9, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

    Cole Irvin #19 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against Joey Gallo #13 of the Texas Rangers during the fourth inning at Globe Life Field on July 9, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

    It’s unclear what this rule change will look like and how it will be enforced. But you can presume that teams simply won’t be allowed to overload the right side of the infield to induce pull hitters into easy ground balls. It’s possible that infielders won’t be able to line up in the outfield, which is a hallmark of the shift.

    While obviously effective, defensive shifts have only served to make games less exciting, forcing power hitters to try bunting or slapping the ball to the opposite field. Banning the shift is akin to offside rules in every other major sport. You can’t cross the line too early in football or hockey, and in basketball you can’t spend too much time in the paint. It’s the same principle.

    The change will certainly lead to more ground balls sneaking through the infield, while more base hits will land safely in right field without a second baseman there to gobble them up. But it’s still more important to up the pace between pitches and at-bats, which is why the pitch clock is still the most impactful change.

  • Bigger Bases

    Ozzie Albies #1 of the Atlanta Braves steals second base as Trea Turner #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers fields the throw during the 5th inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    Ozzie Albies #1 of the Atlanta Braves steals second base as Trea Turner #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers fields the throw during the 5th inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    The idea here is to give runners less distance to cover when attempting to steal bases or reach safely. Steals are often among the most exciting plays in the sport, so more of them in the mix with all the walks and strikeouts should improve the overall entertainment value.

    Despite this and the other rule changes, baseball fans still have to wait another year before they actually happen. But it’s still a huge development for the game itself that players and the league are agreeing to evolve. The only downside here is that George Carlin’s old “baseball & football” bit becomes a little more dated (“We don’t know when it’s gonna end! We might have EXTRA innings!”).

    Baseball has really been testing fans’ patience in recent years. Finally, it looks like they’ll be rewarded.