The start of the 2023 MLB season brought with it rule changes like the pitching clock. With two weeks to go in the new season, these changes are already beginning to impact the game and the experience.
The Resurgence of Stolen Bases Is Just Beginning
The rise in stolen bases has received a lot of attention, as should be expected. The early rate of steals per game (0.69) is the highest in baseball since 1999. If the number typically increases, it could end up at around 0.73, which would put that rate on par with the early 1990s.
Of course, the roster of the teams influences greatly. Teams like the Baltimore Orioles, Arizona Diamondbacks and Cleveland Guardians are going crazy. Others like the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals are barely running.
It remains to be seen if the upward trend in base thefts will continue, or it will be a passing fad.
The Hits Are Back
Last season, MLB’s collective batting average (.243) was the lowest in baseball since the Year of the Pitcher (1968), even though it marked the first full season with the universal designated hitter. While this season’s early rise to a high .240 looks like modest progress, you could actually be seeing a return to normal for the classic batting average in the coming months.
Batting average is another category that tends to change throughout the season. The weather improves. Batters find their rhythms. Teams have to dig deeper into their minor league depth to replace injured pitchers.
The uptick in average varies from year to year, but the typical jump is around nine points from where we are now on the calendar. If you hit that goal once again, then you’ll be seeing a league batting average of around .257. That would be the best since 2009.
The Pace of the Games
The total time of the games has been reduced by 25 minutes on average. The following data puts this trend into perspective:
- About 30% of games so far have ended in the range between 2 hours and 2 hours, 30 minutes. In recent years, that number has hovered around 3.
- The standard for nine-entry games ending in the 3-to-3 1⁄2-hour range has generally been around 46-47%. This year, only 11% of games finished in that range.
- The standard deviation from game to game in the total minutes needed to play nine innings has generally been around 21. This year, that dropped to 16.8. What that means is that the length of the games has not only been shorter, but it has also been more predictable, the durations more consistent from duel to duel.
In short, the implementation of the pitching clock has been the definitive factor in reducing the total time of the game. It remains to be seen whether the trend will be sustainable.
The Fan Bonus
It’s not just the on-field activity that’s changing, though, as fans now have an excuse to drink more beer. Several stadiums, including those of the Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins, realized that the game was moving faster, which was going to cut into their sales. Previously, everyone was cut off after the seventh inning, but not anymore. These stadiums have already pushed the limit out to the end of the eighth.
Not everyone’s going to go that route, though. Philadelphia Phillies fans might not enjoy a little extra time and could even see a reduction. With a faster game, Phillies pitcher Matt Strahm thinks the cutoff should be the sixth inning to give fans more time to sober up.