With the opening of professional baseball in the 2024 season, the “Automatic Ball-Strike System” (ABS), in which machines make strike ball decisions, will be introduced, the base size will be increased, and defensive shifts will be limited.
The secretariat of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) held its first board meeting in 2024 at the Baseball Hall in Dogok-dong, Seoul, on the 11th, attended by representatives of 10 professional baseball teams, and confirmed the order and timing of introducing the new KBO league system.
The board of directors decided to implement ABS from the opening game of the regular league on March 23 and increase the base size like the Major League Baseball (MLB). MLB has expanded the base size from 15 square inches to 18 square inches since last year to prevent injuries to players and increase stolen bases.
The board also decided to limit defensive shifts to strengthen infielders’ defensive abilities and induce more aggressive batting. Defensive shift is a tactic to leave infielders at between the first and second bases empty, or between the second and third bases, or between third and shortstop, in order to block left-handed or right-handed hitters who are thoroughly pulling. The MLB Secretariat changed the rule from last year, requiring defense teams to have at least four fielders in the infield, excluding catchers and pitchers, and to have two on both sides based on the second base. It is highly likely that the KBO League will follow the rules of the MLB as well.
On the other hand, the board decided to accept the on-site opinion of the pitch clock introduced by MLB to reduce the duration of games, and decide whether to apply it in the second half after conducting a trial operation in the first half. In fact, the introduction of the clock has been postponed. Under the system, pitchers are forced to throw within 15 seconds when there are no runners and within 20 seconds when there are runners. Last year, MLB greatly benefited from the reduction of game time after the system was implemented. However, as the opinion centered on the field that it is not possible to immediately introduce pitch clock to KBO, the board changed its direction to more carefully review the detailed implementation rules after the trial operation.
The government has decided to apply a system in which pitchers on the mound are required to deal with at least three batters to this year’s Futures League, before deciding whether to introduce the first team based on the results. The overtime game, which has been in effect in the Futures League since 2022, has also been decided to be discussed again later.
In addition, the board of directors also revised the rules for multi-year contracts with players who are not free agents. According to the revised rules, multi-year contract players are not allowed to obtain FA qualifications during the contract period, and only players whose contracts are scheduled to end in the current year are required to approve FA qualifications. Clubs can apply for approval whenever non-FA players sign a multi-year contract, and if they submit the contract to the KBO by the day after the announcement, the KBO will be required to disclose the contract information the following day. If the contract is not submitted within the deadline, Article 176 of the Code, which stipulates disciplinary action, will be applied mutatis mutandis, and the committee will deliberate on sanctions as it is considered an act that disrupts the order of the contract.
Lastly, the board of directors has decided to limit the payment of bonus money, which is beyond the scope stipulated by the current regulations. As a result, it is prohibited for a manager other than a club to give a bonus to a player by spending his own money. However, for the award of the MVP of the Korean Series, the rules were revised to make it possible if the team submits an operation plan to the KBO before the season and receives approval.
Both regulatory revisions are related to last year’s unified champion LG Twins. LG announced last year that it signed a multi-year contract with captain Oh Ji-hwan for a total of 12.4 billion won for six years before the season, and the contract will take effect from 2024. Initially, the deal was a way for LG to keep Oh, who became an FA after last season, in his team for a long time.
However, it turned out that LG exploited loopholes in the rules to protect its players. Oh Ji-hwan entered the FA market after the season, and his team LG effectively increased the number of players protected by the second draft due to his declaration as a FA. Such contracts will be banned from now on due to the revision of rules.
In addition, LG manager Yeom Kyung-yeop vowed to recruit his own MVP and give him prize money at his own expense ahead of the Korean Series last year, and actually gave bonuses to Park Dong-won and Yoo Young-chan. Such bonuses for making appearances at his own expense are now banned.