Everything Red Sox fans need to know about the 2023 MLB rule changes

ALCS: Yankees v Red Sox Game 4
ALCS: Yankees v Red Sox Game 4 / Jed Jacobsohn/GettyImages

Every year, New Englanders suffering through the doldrums of winter are gifted a glimpse of warmer days ahead when Boston Red Sox spring training begins in February. After an offseason of turnover, fans are eagerly anticipating the 2023 Red Sox. Starting this spring training, MLB has implemented several new rules that will produce noticeable changes to the product on the field. Here is what Red Sox fans can expect with the new rule changes.

The biggest rule change is the implementation of a pitch clock to help the pace of play and shorten games. Major League Baseball is affectionately known as the National Pastime. When it was given this title in the 1800s, fans used it precisely for that ... to pass the time. What else would people do between feeding their livestock, avoiding cholera, and playing with exhilarating toys like marbles and the yo-yo?

However, the world has changed. Today's consumer or "fan" has a short attention span and more demands on their time. Per Time magazine, people have an attention span of 8 seconds, which seems to decrease every year. To put this in perspective, a goldfish can pay attention for 9 seconds. In other words, the goldfish my 7-year-old daughter bought at Petco will watch more of the Boston Red Sox game with me than my daughter. In this context, MLB has observed the average length of a game balloon past 3 hours.

Today's fan has many competing interests for their leisure time. They are happy getting their baseball fix in small morsels through social media like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Like many institutions that have withstood the test of time, MLB is attempting to evolve to keep up with its fans by speeding up the pace of play.

In 2023, there will be a pitch clock to help meet this end. A pitcher will have 15 seconds to deliver the pitch if the bases are empty and 20 seconds if there are runners on base. Hitters will need to be ready in the batter's box and only have one timeout per plate appearance. If a hitter violates they get an automatic strike while a pitcher violation leads to an automatic ball. The pitch clock has been tested extensively in Minor League Baseball and made noticeable differences including shaving an average of 20 minutes off per game while not impacting the important game metrics such as runs per game.

Another new rule is the restriction of defensive shifts. The defensive shift is engrained in Red Sox history from when Cleveland Indians player-manager Lou Boudreau debuted the "Boudreau shift" in 1946 where he stacked his defense to the right side of the diamond in an effort to neutralize the mighty left-handed Ted Williams. Since then, the shift has become commonplace in the game. Critics of the shift will argue that it is one of the driving forces behind the current three-true-outcomes philosophy (home run, walk, or strikeout) which many feel has taken excitement and strategy out of the game.

With the new shift rules in 2023, two infielders must be positioned on either side of second base when a pitch is released. All four infielders must have both feet in the infield when the pitcher toes the rubber. This change rewards teams that put the ball in play and might explain the Red Sox offseason strategy of focusing on hitters with good contact skills like Masataka Yoshida.

The final two rule changes impact baserunners. First, pitchers will no longer be able to attempt as many pickoff attempts as they want. The pitcher will only be able to step off the mound for a pickoff attempt or any other reason twice per batter's plate appearance. Otherwise, the baserunner will advance one base. In 2023, the MLB will also increase the size of the first, second, and third base bags from 15 inches to 18 inches. This was primarily implemented as a safety measure to help avoid collisions. However, this will also reduce the distance between the bases by 4.5 inches.

Though this does not seem like much, remember how close Dave Roberts was from being tagged at second base during his iconic stolen base in Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Game. Both of these rules are expected to increase stolen base attempts and thereby providing more importance to the stealth aspect of the game.

Ultimately, these new rules will improve the pace of play leading to shorter and more intense baseball games. To exemplify this, fans can their own experiment. In the 2013 season, I was working during an important Red Sox game so I asked my wife to record it. I finally relaxed on my couch when I got home and started the game. When I pushed play on the DVR, I accidentally pushed the fast-forward button. The battery in my remote died and I was left scrambling. When things settled, I realized that I was actually watching the game on fast-forward and not missing any details. If I could watch baseball on a low-level fast-forward, what am I doing the rest of the time? Fans can try it on any old recorded games on DVR and see if it works. In full disclaimer, I did miss out on great banter between the Red Sox broadcast team of Don Orsillo and the late great Jerry Remy.

Major League Baseball is hoping these shorter games will improve ratings. One of the great things about fatherhood has been introducing my daughters to baseball. The prospect of them starting a game at 7 p.m. and actually being able to watch the majority of it before bedtime is really appealing. This is how MLB will attract the next generation of young fans.

In addition to the aforementioned pace of play implications, these rules provide more excitement to the individual in-game matchups of baseball. Google marketing has coined the term "micro-moments" for today's consumers who want to get what they want quickly. Baseball is a team sport but unlike the other three major American sports, it is fueled by individual matchups. Most of our best baseball memories consist of one player going directly against another like a pitcher versus a batter. The pitch clock would add to that drama. It will add a sense of time urgency to every pitch. Think about the NFL or the NBA when fans are yelling at their televisions trying to get the team to get the play off or to shoot the ball. This urgency will make these baseball micro-moments even more exciting.

This also applies to matchups on the basepaths where the new rules will encourage more base stealing and high-stakes micro-moments between a pitcher and base runner. Imagine a tense moment in a 1-run game with the tying run on 1st base and the pitcher trying to choose wisely about when to throw to first base to keep the runner out of scoring position. These rules will provide another element of strategy for managers.

These four new rule changes will improve the pace of play, stress individual matchups, and return the importance of the stolen base. This Spring Training will offer fans their first glimpse at how players, managers, and umpires adjust to the rule changes at the Major League level. Fans will also see how managers experiment with strategies to take advantage of the new rules.