MLB will restrict the shift, enlarge the bases, and implement a pitch timer in 2023. Red Sox legend Fred Lynn has thoughts.
Significant rule changes are coming to Major League Baseball in 2023.
On Friday, the league announced that in order to “create more game action and improve pace of play,” a pitch clock, bigger bases, and shift restrictions will be implemented next season.
Boston Red Sox legend Fred Lynn was quick to react to the changes with a throwback photo and a dig at former teammate, Carlton Fisk.
Red Sox legend Fred Lynn has strong feelings about MLB banning the shift and trying to rush pace of play with a pitch timer
This isn’t the first time Lynn has lent his viewpoint to the new rules. When then-Yankees slugger Joey Gallo complained about the shift in February, Lynn had the perfect response.
Williams did, in fact, dominate despite the shift when teams attempted to temper him when he returned for the 1946 season after serving the country in World War II. He led all hitters in runs scored, walks, on-base and slugging percentages, OPS, OPS+, and led the American League in total bases. Opposing teams watched helplessly as he won his first AL MVP award. Had Silver Slugger Awards existed then, he would’ve won that, too.
Lynn also discussed the shift in depth with the Boston Globe (subscription required) in February, with little sympathy for today’s struggling hitters:
"“As a hitter, it’s up to me to make an adjustment. They’re not going to adjust the way they play defense if you just do the same thing. I can be hitting the ball on the screws and my exit velocity is great, cool, but they’re outs.“I have to adjust my thinking. There’s a big hole over there, so how about me going the other way? The onus is on the hitter. It really is. Learn how to hit off-speed stuff the other way. Bunt.It’s got to be a learned process. You have to teach yourself to go the other way. How do you do that? You practice it. You can get in the cage and turn that machine up pretty fast.“I was a dead pull hitter before I got to Fenway Park. That’s literally hitting the ball before it gets to the plate. To go the other way, you bring your hands in … you hold back so that the barrel of the bat is in the hitting area for a longer period of time. That’s a foot of coverage. Just make contact and the ball is going to shoot off to the left side. You can make that adjustment, but it takes some work.”"
Instead of players adjusting to the game, the game will adjust, but it’s unclear how much that will benefit the players or anyone else. Of the three new rules, larger bases seem to be the least-inflammatory change. If bases growing from 15 to 18 inches square mitigates injury on the basepaths, most people will agree that’s a win — especially after the season the Sox are having, though most of their injuries had nothing to do with bases.
Pace of play and the shift are a different story. After experimenting with a pitch timer in the minor leagues, MLB found that the implementation reduced the average game by approximately 26 minutes. Among the fine print are specific time limits: 30 seconds between batters, 20 seconds between individual pitches with runners on base, 15 seconds when the bases are empty.
Speeding up the game has been Commissioner Rob Manfred’s crusade for years, so the new rule is a rare win for him. Of course, as with most of his changes, many fans (and former players) are unhappy. Manfred wanting to speed things up is one of many reasons people think he does not value the game and, therefore, does not deserve to be its safeguard.
The section of the new pace of play rule that feels particularly significant is that a pitcher who isn’t in motion when the timer runs out will be charged with an automatic ball. It’s akin to the three-batter minimum rule Manfred championed in 2019 or the ghost runner in extra innings — changes that wrest control from the team and can seriously impact the outcome of a game.
Baseball has gotten slower over the years, but it’s never been a fast game, and fans love it anyway. A common assumption among fans is that a pitch timer will do little to grow the game because someone who doesn’t like baseball won’t see a meaningful difference. Reducing a game by 20-something minutes only seems significant to people already invested in the game. It’s also unfair to pretend that baseball is the only game that can go long. 30 seconds on the clock in an NFL game can play out over half an hour; an NBA game may go into triple-overtime.
The beauty of baseball is in the stunning moments of triumph that break up the gentle rhythm of the game. Lynn joked about Fisk, but there’s truth behind the jest:
To attempt to hurry the game along is to dilute its essence.