Speeding Up the Game: Runner’s Lane to First Base and Pitch Clock Reduction

Major League Baseball is making changes to some of its most confusing rules, opening the express lane to first base. On Thursday, the joint Competition Committee voted to widen the runner’s lane to include the dirt between the foul line and the infield grass. The committee also voted to cut the pitch clock allotment by two seconds with runners on base and reduce mound visits by one, in an effort to improve pace of play and decrease the length of games.

Specifically, the modifications approved by the committee are aimed at making up for the seven minutes of average nine-inning game time that were lost by September 2023, compared to the average game length in April. This is seen as a positive step in the right direction for the league as it aims to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape of professional sports.

A proposed rule to limit fielders’ ability to block bases other than home plate was tabled for further discussion. The players have suggested addressing this issue in the Competition Committee, and a rule was experimented with in the Arizona Fall League.

Right-handed batters will be particularly pleased with the new rule, as it provides them with a direct path to first base. Previously, MLB Rule 5.09 (a)(11) required a batter to run between the foul line and a three-foot line drawn on the right-hand side of the dirt. With the new rule, runners will still be required to stay in the marked lane to prevent them from drifting too far into foul territory, but they will now be deemed in compliance with the rule as long as both feet remain on the dirt path between home and first.

This simple delineation between “dirt good, grass bad” will make it easier for umpires to make judgments. The change should reduce the number of controversial calls like the one in Game 6 of the 2019 World Series, when the Nationals’ Trea Turner was called out for interference for running to the left of the foul line on an important play.

The committee also approved a reduction of the pitch clock from 20 seconds to 18 seconds with runners on base. The clock will remain at 15 seconds with no runners aboard, and pitchers retain the ability to step off and reset the clock up to two times per plate appearance without penalty.

Other pace-related modifications include changes to pitching changes, mound visits, and how the pitch clock will operate after a dead ball. In a further effort to improve pace, umpires will permit defensive players to signal for a mound visit without actually visiting the mound.

The Joint Competition Committee, comprised of six owners, four players, and one umpire, was created as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated between MLB and the MLB Players Association in 2022. According to Mariners chairman and Competition Committee chairman John Stanton, the recent modifications will build on last year’s work and continue to improve the game for fans and for the sport. These changes are a result of constructive conversations and dedication among all parties involved in the game of baseball.


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