Is new always better? That’s up for debate…
ICYMI: MLB season is almost upon us, but it may not be quite the same game that we’ve all grown accustomed to over the last, oh, I don’t know, century?
What’s changed? Well, the MLB brass decided to implement five new rules, and to keep one new rule from last year for the long term.
Let’s take a look at the new MLB for 2023…I hope you’re sitting down.
- Say goodbye to the infield shift.
This rule is easily the least objectionable for me. In fact I actually like it. Going forward, at the time of the pitch, all infielders must be on the infield dirt, and there must be 2 fielders on each side of second base.
Verdict: Well done MLB, well done. Say goodbye to a laser single to the outfield that’s actually a groundout to the second-baseman…
- Pitchers and batters are now on the clock.
They’ve been testing this out in the minors for a couple years, so this isn’t entirely new to the game of baseball. Going forward, pitchers will have 20 seconds to start their motion with the bases empty, and 15 seconds with runners on base. Violations to this rule will result in a power trip opportunity for the ump—-I mean a ball awarded to the batter.
But wait, there’s more! Batters who an umpire deems to be too slow to get in the box can also be penalized with a strike awarded to the pitcher. Just imagine it’s game 7 of the World Series, and a team wins or loses on an awarded ball or strike. That’s going to go over well…
Verdict: Meh. Score one for the “I-can’t-watch-baseball-because-the-games-are-too-long” crowd…
- Replace the existing bases with…pizza boxes.
According to Alex Cora at least. This change replaces the existing bases, which have been 15-inches wide for longer than anyone reading this has been alive, with all new 18-inch bases.
I’ll make a follow-up blog post to this one when I figure out why they’re doing this, but please, please don’t hold your breath…
- Pickoff attempt limits are now a thing.
Going forward, pitchers will be allowed to disengage with the rubber twice per at-bat, unless a runner advances mid at-bat, then it resets.
With the dawn of analytics driving decision-making in baseball, stolen bases are down across the league. So this apparently is an effort to bring back more steals to the game.
Verdict: After 2 pickoff attempts, the runner now knows the pitcher can’t try to pick them off, so they can just take off at will?
- New limits on position player pitching eligibility.
I certainly don’t claim to know more than the MLB execs who sit down and decide how best to improve the game formally known as “America’s Pastime”, but I struggle to find a way in which this moves the needle in the right direction. Starting this year, in order to be allowed to bring in a position player to pitch, teams will need to be leading by 10 or more runs or losing by 8 or more runs. Additionally, position players are eligible to pitch in extra innings too.
Verdict: Sure. But why?
BONUS: The “ghost runner” that started in 2020 is here to stay.
Yes, MLB is channeling it’s inner Sandlot and will permanently keep the rule putting a runner on 2nd base to start an inning in extra innings. The claim is this will shorten the games, which has been a complaint of many a casual fan over the years. Results so far have been a reduction of the average game length from three hours and 11 minutes, down to, wait for it, three hours anf 4 minutes.
That’s basically the equivalent of your boss ending a meeting one minute early and celebrating “giving you some time back”…
Is any of this actionable as it relates to fantasy baseball? In short, yes.
Stolen bases will increase.
The pickoff limit rule was tested last year in the minors, and across all of minor league baseball, stolen bases went up from just over 20,000 stolen bases in 2021 to just under 25,000 stolen bases in 2022 across all minor leagues. The larger bases will also contribute to an increase in stolen bases and one could presume that more runners sliding into bases in general will be safe at a higher rate.
Batting averages around the league should increase.
With the new restrictions on the shift, this should allow hard line drive singles to result in hits more often. We’ve all see those frozen ropes to the outfield, only for the “Second Baseman” (who’s playing a rover-like slow pitch softball position in the outfield) to easily field it and throw the batter out at first like a routine groundout.