MLB’s competition committee voted to approve multiple rule changes for 2024, the league announced Thursday.
Those updates include subtraction of two seconds from the pitch clock when there are men on base, cutting the time from 20 to 18 seconds. Nothing will change for scenarios in which the bases are empty, as pitchers will still have 15 seconds to begin their delivery. In 2023, the average delivery began with 7.3 seconds remaining on the 20-second timer, per the league.
A wider running lane to first base will also debut next season. Previously, batters had to run in the dirt space between the foul line and the 3-foot line in hopes of avoiding being called out for interference. In 2024, the lane will instead extend to the edge of the infield grass. There will be an 18-to 24-inch space between the foul line and the infield grass in each park, with exceptions for certain fields that would be harder to update.
The pitch clock and runner’s lane amendments will likely be the most noticeable. The rest of the changes for next season are intended to further address the game’s pace.
Other rules intended to shorten games include:
Pitcher changes: When a new pitcher arrives on the warning track with less than two minutes left on the inning break clock, it will reset to two minutes, instead of 2:15. Broadcasters are guaranteed two minutes worth of commercials, but inning breaks featuring a pitching change averaged 35 seconds more than that window in 2023.
Fewer mound visits: Rather than five mound visits, clubs will be limited to four. An exception will be granted in the ninth inning if a defensive team is out of visits at the end of the eighth. Clubs averaged 2.3 mound visits per game last season. Those are part of fans’ most disliked aspects of the sport, surveys show.
Signaling visits: Defensive players won’t be required to visit the mound to signal for a mound visit anymore. MLB hopes this will prevent teams from using mound visits to kill time.
Batter requirement for pitchers: In addition to requirements under the three-batter-minimum rule, pitchers sent to warm up for an inning will be mandated to face at least one batter. MLB’s review found 24 cases of pitchers warming up between innings and being replaced before throwing a pitch last season, with two of those occurring during the World Series.
Circumvention: The pitch clock operator or “field timing coordinator” will restart the clock after a dead ball when the pitcher has the ball. Going forward, pitchers won’t be permitted to delay the start of the clock by walking around the edge of the mound after a foul ball.
How these new rules came to be
Thursday’s vote followed talks spanning multiple offseason meetings. Team general managers, managers and the executive council of the MLB Umpires Association were involved.
The Joint Competition Committee was created as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated between MLB and the MLB Players Association in 2022. The six owners, four players and one umpire on the committee were credited in a statement from Competition Committee chairman John Stanton after the rule changes were announced.
“From its inception, the Joint Competition Committee’s constructive conversations between players, umpires and owners have produced rules that significantly improved the game for fans,” Stanton said. “These modifications will improve on last year’s work by the Competition Committee, which was a resounding success with our fans and for the sport. I want to thank the Commissioner’s Office, the Players Association and the Umpires Union for their dedication to the greatest game ever invented.”
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark’s statement took a different tone, expressing that players on the competition committee weren’t in support of the new rules.
“This afternoon, Player Representatives voted against the 2024 rule changes proposed by the Commissioner’s Office,” Clark wrote, via ESPN’s Jeff Passan. “As they made clear in the Competition Committee, Players strongly feel that, following last season’s profound changes to the fundamental rules of the game, immediate additional changes are unnecessary and offer no meaningful benefits to fans, Players, or the competition on the field. This season should be used to gather additional data and fully examine the health, safety, and injury impacts of reduced recovery time; that is where our focus will be.”
Ultimately, the rules were implemented because MLB has a majority of seats on the Competition Committee.