Theo says rule changes were made to improve game for fans


Major League Baseball is rolling out a slew of rule changes that will forever alter baseball. They're introducing a pitch clock, banning the shift and making bases bigger, among others.

While some fans are bemoaning change, on a MLB Network special airing Thursday night,Theo Epstein says each change was made with the fan in mind.

"The game has evolved a lot over the last two or three decades and some of those changes have been driven by optimizations that were led by front offices and people like me pushing them," Epstein.

"And while it might have helped you win some more games, it didn't necessarily change the game for the better for the fans in terms of the way the game is played on the field esthetically."

One of those rule changes is banning the shift.

Epstein and the panel talk noted how the shift altered what was once considered a hit. What used to be a hit is now an automatic out because of the shift.

And because it's effective, the shift has become more prevalent season after season. In fact, the number of shifts per season tripled from 22,185 in 2017 to 60,765 in 2022. 

While detractors will say banning the shift is making baseball soft and overreaching into game play, the counterpoint is the rule reverting the game to what baseball once was.

"Fans grew up knowing what a hit looks like off the bat and what an out looks like off the bat and that changed suddenly over the last decades," Epstein. "And to bring that back I think will restore a little bit of a comfort zone for a lot of our fans."

Epstein also cites the infielders during minor league tests as some of the biggest fans of the rule.

"I think fans prefer if a game is decided by whether their second baseman can range in the hall, make a diving play, come up and throw the runner out, more so than if their front office had the right algorithm to position them in the perfect place of the ball set right to him," Epstein said. "It puts the players back in the middle of the action and athleticism back on the diamond."

Major League Baseball will roll out a pitch clock to cut down on the dead time between pitches. The length of games has been a frequent scapegoat for MLB's viewership struggles.

And while it will cut down on game run time, Epstein thinks it will improve other areas of the game as well.

"I think ultimately the real winners are the fans because it's a better brand of baseball besides just a much better pace," Epstein said. "We saw strikeouts go down slightly with the pitch timer. We saw better defense because the fielders are engaged with a faster pace of player.

"So it's going to be not only a better pace, but we hope a better brand of baseball."

Epstein also noted that the pitch clock seemed to benefit pitcher health and the longer breaks between pitches without the clock was more of a detriment. 

And the bigger bases? Made to create more action on the base paths.

"We're going to see more stolen base activity," Epstein said. "In the minor leagues with these rules. We saw about half a stolen base more per game. We saw the success rate go up a couple percentage points. So give the fans more of what they like, the running game."

Stolen base attempts per game was 2.37 in 1976 and still as high as 2.08 in 1995. In 2022, there were an average of 1.35 stolen base attempts per game.

New rules are coming. And it's all with the hope of bettering the fan experience.

"We're excited to have these new rules that will make the game better for the fans," Epstein said. "You know, the game is about the players and the rules will put the players in the center of the action and it's for the fans and we think it'll be a better product overall for the fans to enjoy."

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