Before the start of the 2022 season, Major League Baseball ended a 99-day lockout (the second-longest in the sport’s history) with a series of compromises. These compromises led to a shopping list of major changes to the game. This post explains MLB’s new rules and how they’re going to change the game.
These changes were motivated by troubling new trends in pro baseball. These include dropping salaries against increasing team revenues and a reduction in balls-in-play. Other trends include frequent fan complaints about the lengths of games and a perceived lack of baseball fundamentals on display.
This post is a guide to all the big changes shaking up baseball. They’re listed in increasing order of how much the new rule stands to ruin the national pastime:
The Schedule Will (Eventually) Be Balanced
Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred has decided that regular-season schedules are out of balance. His suggestion for a fix is to have each team play at least one series against every opponent in both leagues.
Talking heads with more experience than me say that this will reduce some strength-of-schedule complaints heard by fans of teams in the recent past. Look at the schedule difficulty ratings for the 2021 season. It’s obvious that teams with easier schedules performed better in black and white. In fact, each of the teams with the ten easiest schedules won at least 80 games.
Here’s why I list this rule change first, as the least-impactful change in the sport:
It won’t really be in effect until the 2023 season, as the 2022 schedule had already been made before Manfred came up with this scheme.
You might also be interested in my post offering tips for betting on the MLB World Series. And no, it’s not too soon to start thinking about that.
No More 7-Inning Doubleheaders
We’re back to full nine innings games starting in the 2022 season. I think this will have a net positive effect on the game, so it’s listed way up at the top.
This one’s simple. In the 2020 and 2021 seasons, doubleheaders went seven innings instead of the standard nine. This was designed to limit player exposure to COVID-19. Manfred clearly sees COVID in the past tense, and a return to two full nine-inning games will be welcomed by fans. As for the players, who suddenly have to work an extra few hours on doubleheader days, it gives them a few extra chances to get on base.
This is probably the least of MLB’s new rules, in terms of effects on the game.
How does this affect your handicapping of MLB baseball games? It might not affect that much, but you should read about the statistics that can help at the link to my other post.
Advertising to Appear on Player Uniforms
Starting with the 2022 season, MLB is embracing the advertising tactics long used by European football clubs and even other American pro sports leagues.
Players will sport patches on their jerseys and decals on their batting helmets. This has been done before, most notably during games played outside the United States, and in lower-level pro and semipro leagues.
This move leaves the NFL as the only major pro sports league in the world that doesn’t advertise on player jerseys.
Why this move now?
Manfred must have seen the NBA bring in a little over $225 million after their first year of advertising on jerseys. Major League Baseball, always at least pretending to hurt for money, is looking for a big cash infusion.
The National League Adopts the Designated Hitter
This one’s kind of huge. National League pitchers have been hitting since the late 19th century. That’s no longer a thing.
I’m not sure what impact this is going to have on the league. I know that opponents of expanding the DH into the National League say that it takes something away from our national sport, making the game more about home runs than well-timed strategy.
I’ll miss the late-inning double switch, the pounding heartbeat moment of seeing a pitcher stare down his opponent with a bat in his hand. I’ll miss that great rarity – a pitcher knocking a long ball.
We’ll likely see more runs scored in the NL. That’s always a good thing for the fans. How will this change strategy in the NL? Let’s take a few seasons and wait and see how things play out.
The 12-Team Playoff
Baseball has had a 10-team playoff since 2012, featuring six divisional winners and four wild card teams, playing one game as a single-elimination play-in. That means 10 teams in the playoffs. Since the league is made up of 30 teams, this meant only 1/3 of teams would make the playoffs each year.
The MLB’s new rules call for one additional playoff team per league, for a total of 12. That means about 40% of the league will make the playoffs. The two top-seeded teams in each league will earn automatic byes to the second round; the 3rd through 6th-seeded teams will duke it out in a three-game format to determine who moves on to round two.
Plenty of hot takes have surfaced since this news broke. On one side, people wonder if this waters down the competition, and pushes teams to ease up a little towards the end of the season, rather than fighting for fewer spots. On the other side of the debate, people who say that more playoff baseball is better, more lucrative for the league, and more entertaining for fans.
Whatever the impact on the game, it’s bound to be pretty big.
See also: Baseball Value Betting Tips
In every MLB season leading up to 2022, first, second, and third bases were 15” square. Starting in 2022, they’ll be 18” square. The bases are getting bigger, folks, for better and for worse.
On the plus side, bigger bases mean fewer injuries. That keeps our rosters consistent and our favorite players knocking dingers all season long. Clearly, that’s a good thing.
Another mark in the plus column – bigger bases mean more steals. In 1985, players stole 3,585 bases. By the 2021 season, that number had tanked to 2,213. Plenty of reasons for this exist –injury concerns, the ability of the replay camera to catch base runners out – but it’s harmed the game.
Naysayers again decry changing the game of our grandfathers in the name of fan service. Baseball purists figure if a 15” base was good enough for Lou Brock and Ty Cobb, it should be good enough for modern players and fans.
Regardless of where you stand, it’s clear that changing the size of fundamental game props will shake up the league quite a bit.
The Pitch Clock
The addition of a pitch clock will have a huge impact on the game.
The average length of a full game of baseball in 2021 was 3 hours and 10 minutes. That represents an all-time high. Games are long and often slow, and this doesn’t match up well with the desires of modern audiences and advertisers. Baseball games are more than an hour longer than NBA or NFL games, and it’s a problem.
The goal of the pitch clock in baseball is to control the length of games, plain and simple. If MLB uses a 15-second pitch clock, as they’ve tested in the minor leagues, we could see games end a half-hour earlier on average.
Lots of fans are up in arms about this one, and their reasoning is solid. Baseball doesn’t have a pitch clock for a reason, they say. So much of the game is mental, they insist. Adding a pitch clock is changing the very fabric of the game, they shout.
Defensive Shifts Forbidden
Technically speaking, Manfred et al didn’t ban defensive shifts. They just made some changes to the rules that will control a few of the more extreme defensive shifts created and implemented in recent years by acolytes of analytics.
Under MLB’s new rules, all four infielders must have their feet in the outer boundary of the infield dirt at the time the pitch is thrown. While teams are still allowed to shift, they won’t be able to use the popular flex prevent defense that’s been credited with limiting run-scoring in recent years.
Bad news for people against this new rule – the league retained the right to go for a full ban on defensive shifting in the second half of the season.
It’s difficult to measure how much this changes the game of baseball. The game will look different, for sure. I expect scores to go up, and we’ll probably see pitching stats drop significantly.
I had to list this change last because it’s an absolute sea change and stands to have the biggest and longest-lasting impact of any of the sweeping changes made post-lockout.
While we won’t see humanoid robots on giant wheels calling balls and strikes Jetson’s-style, we will soon see radar devices that transmit ball and strike calls to an umpire, replacing the home plate ump’s eye with the supposedly-neutral eye of a machine.
It’s called the Automated Ball and Strike System, and it’s in heavy use in low-A ball already. The big change this year is that the league is all but saying they’re going to bring these systems to the Major League game.
For fans resistant to things like a universal DH and advertising on jerseys, giving the calling of balls and strikes to an automated system must feel like sacrilege.
Conclusion: How Will MLB’s New Rules Affect the Game?
Audiences are changing. New ways of watching and engaging with sports are emerging faster than the stuffy old MLB can deal with them. Young fans want something different from baseball than their parents wanted. These are just some of the reasons behind the MLB’s new rules.
What we’re seeing in Major League Baseball – huge changes and labor disputes – is a direct result of this major shift in the game’s audience. It will take some time to see how fans react to these disruptions in the sports so beloved it’s known as the national game.
You can find more coverage of MLB’s new rules changes here, too.