How 1 game showed all the upsides of rule changes

April 12th, 2023

If you were in the stands at Wrigley Field on Monday night, here’s what you saw:

You saw the Cubs play the Mariners in Chicago for the first time since 2019.

You saw Julio Rodríguez, one of the signature young stars of the sport, make his Wrigley debut.

You saw a tense, tight tilt in which the Cubs lost their 2-1 lead in the ninth, when Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic slugged a clutch solo home run, but then won it in the bottom of the 10th, when Nico Hoerner flicked a single to shallow right-center to bring home automatic runner Nick Madrigal with the final run.

You saw all of this – 10 innings of baseball at its best – in two hours and 38 minutes.

As the LED lights at Wrigley strobed in celebration of the Cubbies’ W, the local time was 9:17 p.m.

Connect all those dots – a marquee star playing in an unusual market, a dramatic duel played at an appropriate pace, a freebie baserunner encouraging continued attendance and accelerating the ending and a game time palatable to patrons with young kids – and you see the entertainment product MLB has been engineering with a series of rule and schedule changes.

That one night at Wrigley is a prime example of what MLB looks like now that the sluggish slog has been meaningfully addressed and the schedule has become more balanced. Thanks to the implementation of the pitch timer, defensive shifts restrictions and bigger bases, this 2023 season has featured more action in less time, along with a schedule that is no longer so hyper-regional.

Here were the numbers through Monday’s play:

Average time of nine-inning game: 2:37, compared to 3:09 through the same number of days in 2022 (and 3:04 at season’s end)

Runs per game: 9.3, compared to 8.3 through the same number of days in 2022 (and 8.6 at season’s end)

Batting average: .248, compared to .233 through the same number of days in 2022 (and .243 at season’s end)

Right-handed batting average: .252, compared to .236 through the same number of days in 2022 (and .243 at season’s end)

Left-handed batting average: .242, compared to .227 through the same number of days in 2022 (and .236 at season’s end)

Right-handed batting average on balls in play (BABIP): .304, compared to the final season BABIP of .295 in 2022

Left-handed BABIP: .291, compared to the final season BABIP of .283 in 2022

Stolen bases: 1.3 per game in 1.7 attempts at 80% success rate, compared to 1.0 per game in 1.3 attempts at 74% success rate in the full season in 2022

All of this action is happening with little interruption from automatic balls and strikes due to pitch timer infractions. Through 155 games, there had been 135 violations – less than one per game.

For those trying to introduce their kids to the game and those who play it, these brisker ballgames and these balanced schedules have been quite cooperative. The average game Monday night ended at 9:16 p.m. local time, none later than 10:07 p.m. Bringing a kid to a ballgame on a school night and being able to stay for the ending is now far easier than it was in the past, especially with many teams now starting such games in the 6 p.m. local hour.

Game times are on pace for their quickest pace since the 1980s, so the pitch timer has successfully reversed time, to an earlier era. And the schedule change has simultaneously ushered in a new era. The expanded postseason format all but demanded a fairer schedule in which teams from different divisions, within the same league, played more similar slates (so that teams from weaker divisions did not have an undue advantage against those from deeper divisions).

But there is an added marketing advantage, as well. The new schedule is showing off baseball’s brightest lights in a more meaningful way. Whether it’s the aforementioned J-Rod on the North Side or Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, Juan Soto and Co. going to Kansas City, Aaron Judge taking aim at Dodger Stadium or Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout coming to Coors Field, there are increased Interleague opportunities for fans to see the biggest names in baseball up close. Every team plays every other team at least once, so you can see your favorite squad square up against those and other big names either in-person or on the tube.

Change is not always easy to embrace, especially in a sport so bound to tradition. But perhaps the greatest baseball tradition of them all is passing the love of the game down from one generation to another.

As we saw Monday night in Wrigley and will see throughout this 2023 season in which baseball has, in so many ways, been rebranded, that is easier than ever.