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What MLB fans and players think of baseball's new rules

Third baseball Austin Riley #27 of the Atlanta Braves fields a ball hit by Mike Yastrzemski #5 of the San Francisco Giants in the third inning at Oracle Park on September 14, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Third baseball Austin Riley #27 of the Atlanta Braves fields a ball hit by Mike Yastrzemski #5 of the San Francisco Giants in the third inning at Oracle Park on September 14, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Major League Baseball has new rules.

“This is the most fundamental change to the in-field game in baseball since integration,” Jeff Passan says.

They’re designed to speed up the game and attract more fans. Are they working?

Today, On Point: What fans and players think of the sport’s big changes in the first few weeks of the new season.

Guests

Jeff Passan, senior MLB Insider at ESPN.

C.J. Stewart, former professional baseball player in the Chicago Cubs organization.

Founder of the LEAD Center for Youth, an Atlanta organization that aims to use the sport of baseball to help Black boys overcome poverty, crime and racism.

Interview Highlights

On baseball’s big rule changes

Jeff Passan: “No question, it’s the biggest on-field change. I mean there have been certainly other things that have happened in baseball over the last 75 or so years that are notable and significant. But when integration happened, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, all of a sudden you just had this new world of talent that was coming in and making the game better. This isn’t that.

“I think the goal for Major League Baseball here is to recognize a few things. Number one, that fans these days have expectation for their entertainment products. And that expectation is that it’s going to engage you regularly, that it’s not going to take up too much of your time, and that if there’s a slog at all, there are plenty of other options out there for people to have. But as much as that, the players who are playing in 2023, Anthony, are more talented than they have ever been before. They have better training modalities. They have more knowledge. They’re better athletes.

“So why would you take these superior players and have them do what they do best, less? That’s what the game had evolved into. And the hope in introducing the pitch clock, and the larger bases and banning defensive shifts, was that all of these great qualities and elements that players have these days would be highlighted. As opposed to being shut down the way that they were under the old rules.”

On the new field arrangements

Jeff Passan: “It’s been great for left-handed hitters who, you know, there would be a third baseman shifted over into short right field and would be making plays there. That’s not allowed anymore. It’s great for singles. If you like singles, then you like baseball in 2023. But you look at a number, batting average on balls in play, which historically has been around 300. You know, if you put the ball in play, it’s going to land for a hit about 30% of the time. Over the last three years, that number had dipped to around 290, and it’s back up to 298 this year.

“So it illustrates that there’s just a specific way that the game goes that it had gotten away from. And if you talk with people at Major League Baseball, their perspective is that we’re not trying to reinvent the game necessarily. We’re just trying to bring it back to its natural order. And, you know, one could argue that a game’s natural order is how it evolves. But I think Major League Baseball believes that it had evolved in the wrong way and had gotten away from some of the fundamental things that make baseball great.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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