MLB Bans Shifts and Introduces a Pitch Clock in 2023

Major League Baseball has explored a number of possible rule changes in recent years, experimented with changes to the extra-innings format, and used the minor leagues to test out a lot of things, from pitch clocks to automated strike-ball calling systems.

Now it looks like the major leagues will be implementing a few new things for 2023 that will bring some significant changes to the field, with pitch clocks, bigger bases and, arguably the most impactful, a ban on defensive shifts next season.

The larger base is a security change that will likely be well received by everyone. It makes for fewer clashes or opportunities for players to step on each other and potentially hurt themselves or their opponents, which is objectively a good thing. The other two changes are much more debatable about their merits and whether they will have a positive or negative impact on the game.

The pitch clock has been in use for some time in the minor leagues, as an attempt to speed up games and prevent pitchers from sitting too long between pitches and slowing the pace to a crawl. There are some who think that the clock manages to keep a better pace and that not too much change is needed for pitchers, other than just being a little faster in their routine. Others will say that keeping the clock is often uneven and all it does is put something else in the minds of the pitchers to worry about. It’s coming to the majors anyway, and we’ll see how pitchers deal with the game’s new forced speed.

The most controversial of all is the shift ban. This is one the old school crowd will celebrate, as anyone who has seen an MLB broadcast can attest to the fact that older analysts often protest the shift. Defenses may no longer place a third defender on the opposite side of second base (i.e. the shortstop moving to the first base side or the second baseman moving to the third base side) and all four infielders must both feet on the dirt in the field. Given the recent shift in baseball, this will have a major impact on both offense and defense. Some teams are extremely tough, doing this on almost every batter, and they will have to make significant changes in strategy. For batters who are constantly shifted, it’s a huge boost to their chance to increase their average, which is great for them.

Many will point out that this change usually just yields to offense and for a league obsessed with speeding up the game, eliminating defensive shifts that produce more outs will only prolong matches. That said, they also want to make things more exciting and theoretically more hits would. Still, there is some frustration that this rewards one-dimensional batters, as those who are able to hit all squares are rewarded by a defense having to play them straight while a drawing-only batter shifts because they can’t make that adjustment. This debate isn’t going to end anytime soon, but those pull hitters will likely enjoy some real production bumps next year when they’re no longer faced with the shift and have a lot more open space to pull the ball in.