A month into the season, MLB rules changes are having the desired effect

Through games of Sunday, scoring is up when compared to March and April of 2022. So are singles, batting average and stolen bases. The average game times of 2 hours, 36 minutes are down from 3:03 in 2022.

SHARE A month into the season, MLB rules changes are having the desired effect
Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner was among the league leaders with 10 stolen bases through Sunday. Stolen bases are up across the majors because of rules changes that took effect this season.

Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner was among the league leaders with 10 stolen bases through Sunday. Stolen bases are up across the majors because of rules changes that took effect this season.

Michael Reaves/Getti Images

We’ve had a month to look at the effect of rules changes in Major League Baseball, and a preliminary verdict is in.

So far, so good.

Through games of Sunday, scoring is up when compared to March and April of 2022. So are singles, batting average and stolen bases. The average game times of 2 hours, 36 minutes are down from 3:03 in 2022.

The pitch timer, defensive-shift restrictions, limits on pickoff attempts and larger bases have worked together. How much of the increase in batting average is because of shift limitations and how much is because of the pitch clock is debatable, but the effect is there.

Let’s break it down by the numbers:

Batting average

A March-April batting average of .247 might not look like much compared with .243 for all of 2022, but offense increases as weather warms. A more appropriate comparison is to March and April of 2022, when the major-league average was .232.

The increase has been fueled partially by a rise in batting average on balls in play. BABiP stands at .298 through Sunday after being at .282 for the same period in 2022 and .290 for the full season.

Singles, where defensive shifts could have their greatest effect, stood at 5.03 per team per game last March and April. This season, they’re up to 5.36.

The Cubs are riding the trend, with a .276 batting average and .325 BABiP after .250 and .313 last March and April. The White Sox have been below the curve at .236 and .286, though they also struggled offensively last March and April at .212 and .245.

Scoring

Teams have averaged 4.59 runs per game, including 5.41 for the Cubs and 4.09 for the Sox. That major-league average is up from 4.03 for the same period last season and from 4.28 for the full season in 2022.

A normal increase in warm-weather offense might push scoring near the 4.83 of 2010, the first time runs per game exceeded 4.7 since the 4.80 of 2007.

Batting averages and BABiPs aren’t the only components on the rise. Home runs stand at 1.13 per team per game. In 2022, the average in March and April was .91 before reaching 1.07 for the season. The all-time highs are 1.39 in 2019 and 1.28 in the shortened 2020. A summer surge might push 2023 close to those levels.

A rise in homers can’t be pinned on shift restrictions, but the pitch clock is one possible factor.

Stolen bases

The pickoff limit and, to some extent, larger bases seem to have emboldened teams to run more.

Steal attempts are up to 0.89 per team per game, 0.71 steals and 0.18 caught-stealings (79.3% success rate). In March and April of 2022, teams tried to steal 0.65 times a game, with 0.48 stolen bases and a 73.5% success. Higher success rates could drive attempts higher as the season continues.

Some fans have suggested that adjusting to shifts and hitting to the opposite field is something hitters should have done on their own, but they didn’t.

So far, the rules changes have brought more hits, more runs, more action on the bases and faster games — exactly what they were designed to do.

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