What do Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy, players think about MLB rule changes?

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In his first start of spring training, pitching for his new team, Texas Rangers pitcher Nathan Eovaldi quickly got ahead of the batter with a no-ball, two-strike count.

Working with a new catcher for the first time, Eovaldi struggled to communicate the next pitch he wanted to throw to the batter.

Before he knew it, the umpire stepped away from behind home plate, waved his arms, and called Eovaldi on a pitch clock violation.

Welcome to 2023 and the new Major League Baseball rules.

The count was then 1-2, and although Eovaldi got an out on the next pitch, the mishap could have turned the tides of the at-bat.

“It’s for pace of play, and I learned you’re not just going to be able to stop and stand around,” Eovaldi said.

Pace of play has been major focus of this season which reached the midway point this week. When MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced new rule changes would be implemented, he promised the game would become faster and have more action.

Has it?

Rangers players and coaches reflected on how the new rules have impacted the game and their team, which rests atop the American League West Division.

The new rules

A pitch clock was implemented to speed up the game. The clock allows pitchers 30 seconds to be ready to pitch in-between batters, 15 seconds between pitches when there are no runners on base and 20 seconds when runners are on base.

The rule also limits how often a pitcher can attempt a pick-off a base runner and how many times the pitcher can disengage with the pitching rubber.

“I’m a big fan of it, I like it, I think it’s speeding the game up and it making baseball more of a sport for it,” said Rangers pitcher Jon Gray, “No in-between boring breaks, that’s what makes baseball hard to watch.”

The second rule change placed limits on how infields are allowed to align. The rule mandated that two infielders must be on each side of the second base bag and all four infielders must have at least one foot in the dirt.

“I don’t mind the infield rules either, it makes guys be more athletic and you kinda see [Marcus] Semien and [Corey] Seger’s range,” said Rangers reliever Will Smith.

The third rule was increasing the width of the square bases from 15 to 18 inches. This was done to increase players’ safety and also make it moderately easier to steal bases.

Impact on the Rangers

These new rules seem to have had their intended effect.

Last season teams in the MLB scored an average of 4.28 runs per game, the lowest figure since 2015 and the third straight year of declining offense, this season teams are scoring 4.55 runs per game.

In 2022, en route to their sixth straight losing season, the Rangers scored 4.36 runs per game. That figure is up dramatically this season to 5.96. The rules have had an impact. And so has a better offensive roster.

The Rangers’ average game time last season was 3 hours, 4 minutes. With the new rules in effect, Rangers games averaged 2 hours, 37 minutes for the first 81 games of the 162-game schedule.

Although the Rangers were the best team in MLB at stealing bases last season — swiping 128 bags, including 72 in the first half of the season — Texas ranks 26th this season with only 42 steals in 81 games.

The fall in stolen base numbers has been counteracted by on-base running aggressiveness. The Rangers have been successful on 69% of their stolen base attempts this season, a two-percent increase from 2022.

Pitch clock violations

The Rangers also haven’t been repeat offenders regarding new violations.

Batters must be in the batters box and making eye contact with at least eight seconds remaining on the pitch clock. The Texas hitters been called for pitch clock violations only five times, tied for the fifth fewest in the MLB. The Rangers also have the second-fewest number of pitcher violations with 11.

Some Rangers pitchers, such as Dane Dunning, see the rule changes as a competitive advantage for pitchers.

Dunning said he has found success in manipulating the pitch clock to disorient hitters’ timing.

As long as he is set and ready to pitch by the time the clock hits 12 seconds, he can begin his windup and deliver the pitch as soon or as late as he desires.

“Even before (the season), I didn’t think the pitch clock was going to affect me, and it so far hasn’t,” Dunning said. “I like it a lot. It’s a lot easier for me to hold runners now and manipulate my time. I just look at the clock and when I come set, I can pitch whenever before the clock is up.”

Ironing out the kinks

Despite widespread acceptance of the new rules, there are still kinks to work out.

Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux thinks there are ways the rules could be changed for pitchers’ benefit since he saw most of the new rules as focused on increasing offensive production.

“I would love to see the pitcher be able to have a timeout when nobody’s on,” said Maddux. “There’s no penalty for the hitter to call a timeout.”

Maddux also pointed out a quirk of the new rules that the Rangers have had to adjusted.

“The big difference between a starter and a reliever entering an inning, the starter has a much shorter walk,” said Maddux, “They both get the same amount of time so whether you’re coming from 100 feet away in the dugout or 300 feet from the bullpen it’s a little different.”

Maddux said he has approached umpires about and they understand his concern. That rule could be tweaked in the future.

Skeptics of the pitch clock argue it could have negative effects in the postseason, not wanting pitchers and hitters to feel rushed when one pitch or clutch hit could spell the difference between victory or defeat.

Some have discussed either altering the pitch clock to make it more lenient for the postseason, which Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said he would not mind.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they do tweak it a little bit,” he said. “It’s harder to build up drama. I’m fine with the clock, it’s been tremendous for the game. It seems like there’s more action. It’s done well.”

Have the rules changed baseball?

“The only people who have to stress are pitchers and catchers because you have to have the signs down earlier, but that’s about it,” said catcher Mitch Garver.

Pitcher Will Smith agreed, noting that the clock had no real effect on him.

“As far as it messing it up for anybody I don’t think it’s caused that,” said Smith, “I don’t think the clock has been an issue or anything.”

“I think it’s been great,” said outfielder Robbie Grossman. “It kind of crisped up the game. No one likes four-hour baseball games. Two hours and some change for baseball games has really kept us off our feet. It makes the game enjoyable. “

Bochy felt similarly saying it hasn’t fundamentally changed the way he’s managed but has added new wrinkles.

“I’ll be honest, it really hasn’t changed how I’ve managed the club, except for maybe we find ways to give a pitcher a break,” Bochy said, “Cause every game you’ll have those moments where it’s important to get the hitter out or make a big pitch.”

Players and coaches agreed that the changes the MLB has introduced this season have been overwhelmingly positive for the game of baseball.

“I think it’s [pitch clock] been tremendous for the game,” said Bochy, “ It’s created a good pace, it seems like more action it’s done well I think.”