How MLB’s new rules —
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Major League Baseball will look appreciably different in 2023, when pitch clocks are implemented, bigger bases are introduced and defensive shifts are practically outlawed. While rosters are being built, the effects of these changes could be already felt. The industry’s top-level executives met in Las Vegas earlier this month for the general manager meetings. They spent a lot time discussing how the new rules might affect the value of players.
The consensus, basically: “We’ll see. We know the pace of play, which is a priority for this league, will be faster. (The average game time in the minor leagues last season dropped by 26 minutes with a pitch clock — from 3 hours, 4 minutes to 2 hours, 38 minutes — according to data provided by MLB.) We don’t know how the new rules will affect how games are played and how teams are constructed. In constant pursuit of the casual fan MLB wants shorter game times. It also wants more balls in play and more action on the bases. And maybe eventually, more innings from pitchers. It seeks a new way of winning — a pursuit that should encourage creativity from the sport’s architects.
“It’s going to be fun trying to figure out where the opportunities for us to win with these new rules are that maybe another team won’t be on,” said Boston Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “Why can’t they be first to those opportunities?” We’re trying to keep our feet on the ground and focus on what players do to win baseball games. That’s not going to change. If there is something dramatic, it might come from something we didn’t spend much time thinking about and we won’t really know until there’s 30 teams out there playing with them. However, people of Bloom’s caliber will spend a lot more time anticipating in the offseason. This is the job. Here are their thoughts on how pitch clocks and shift restrictions might affect clubs’ valuation systems.
It’s a good time to be a left-handed pull hitter
This was by far the most popular notion among executives when asked about the types of players who might attain the most value with the new rules. The numbers support their theory. The shift was used on 34% of plate appearances last season, nearly three times more often than it was just five years earlier. Lefties were shifted against a whopping 55% of the time in 2022, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. The average left-handed hitter’s batted ball in play was. 283, the lowest in a full season since 1989 (for righties, who were shifted on 34% of the time, it was .296). Their BABIP on ground balls was a miniscule .219.
The rules limiting the shift will require all four infielders to place both feet within the outer boundary of the infield; two of them must reside on each side of second base. These restrictions were used in Double-A and both Class A levels this season and only marginal increases were seen in BABIP (BABIP for left-handed hitters who hit ground balls went from ). 240 to . 249 year over year). Shifts are more prominent in the major leagues. You won’t suddenly see an additional infielder in shallow left field — which could be a boon for the left-handed power hitter.
A prime example of their increasing value has already presented itself with Joc Pederson, who made a combined $13 million off back-to-back free-agent contracts in 2021 and 2022 but accepted the $19. 65 million qualifying offer from the San Francisco Giants for 2023. Farhan Zaidi, Giants president of baseball operations, spoke to reporters shortly after Pederson accepted his offer. He said that he believed he would win the batting title next season. “
Seattle Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto: “I can’t think of a team that I’ve talked to so far that hasn’t expressed interest in acquiring left-handed hitting. That’s the most obvious difference. It’s not clear if it will affect roster building immediately, but I believe it will affect the game’s play. It will impact roster building in a year, even if it doesn’t affect it now. “
Detroit Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris: “The banning of the shift presents new opportunities for left-handed hitters. This is the demographic that batted the most with the shift. “
Cincinnati Reds GM Nick Krall: “On offense, pull guys are going to look better. “
Los Angeles Dodgers GM Brandon Gomes: “My sense would be the left-handed slugger [will attain more value], just being able to accumulate more hits and not just do damage. This would be my pick. There are many other points you could argue. We don’t know what the pitch clock will do. There are many things that could happen that we don’t even know about. “
Free agents it helps most: Twelve qualified players were shifted against on more than 75% of the pitches they saw from 2017 to 2022. They are, in descending order: Chris Davis, Carlos Santana, Joey Gallo, Justin Smoak, Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, Matt Carpenter, Jay Bruce, Mitch Moreland, Matt Olson, Brandon Belt and Max Muncy. Santana, Gallo and Carpenter are all available as free agents during the offseason.
Speed — particularly infielders with range — will be at a premium
The end of extreme shifts means infielders, particularly up the middle, will be tasked with covering more ground. Non-traditional second basemen will be more difficult for teams, so shortstops with an above-average range will likely become more important.
That’s where executives seem to be focusing right now — but there’s also a baserunning component, though the potential impact in that realm remains a mystery.
Base sizes will increase from 15 to 18 square inches, shortening the distance between first and second and second and third by 4.5 inches (it’s three inches from home to first and third to home). MLB has pinned the reasoning to injury prevention (base-related injuries at the four full-season minor league levels went from 453 in 2021 to 392 in 2022, when bigger bases were implemented, according to the league). Perhaps base-stealing, a dying skill that fascinates fans, will see an increase. There were 0. 68 stolen-base attempts per team game this season, fourth fewest since 1969, which marks the beginning of the Divisional Era. The only years in that stretch with a lower rate: 2019, 2020 and 2021.
According to MLB, the full-season minor-league levels went from 2. 23 stolen-base attempts and a 68% success rate in 2019 to 2. 83 at a 77% success rate in 2022, seemingly a product of both the bigger bases and a new rule that will limit pitchers to two pickoff attempts per plate appearance.
Washington Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo: “Athleticism will be a premium since that will impact the changes both on offense and defense. It will take some time to build the team. “
Chicago White Sox GM Rick Hahn: “The pitch clock is going to be the biggest adjustment because it’s on every play, but the shift will have the biggest impact in terms of roster construction. You will need to see more athleticism from your middle infielders than what you were able in the past. “
Harris: “Banning the shift creates a higher premium on infield range because you can’t cover for range by positioning as you’re used to. When it comes to personnel, you have to consider that price. “
Krall: “We’ll look at infield defense a little differently without the shift. “
Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer: “You can’t hide guys in the shift anymore. Athleticism should fill that space. The days of sub-average players playing second base are gone. It’s something worth considering. “
Miami Marlins GM Kim Ng: “I think you’ll see more athletic second basemen than we’ve seen in the past few years. “
Oakland Athletics GM David Forst: “I’ve heard talk about that. We have such a good idea about a player’s athleticism, ability, and how he moves for the ball in infield. We’ll still do our best positionally. I’m not going to play second baseman every time because we can’t shift. You still have the ability to move it about. Although I think that might be a bit exaggerated, you will still have the ability to move it around. “
Free agents it helps most: Trea Turner, a highly coveted shortstop this offseason, is one of the fastest players in the sport. His value as a base-stealer of elite level is even greater. Keep athletic free-agent second basemen like Jean Segura, Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison in mind, too.
WANTED: Pitchers who can work faster — without diminishing their stuff
MLB’s main motivation for the pitch clock is quickening pace and shortening game times. It sees a health component, as well, noting that pitcher injuries in the minor leagues went from 1,058 in 2021 to 782 in 2022. According to the league, the cumulative effect of playing shorter games and getting more sleep may have contributed to the dip. Another possibility is that the cartoonish stuff that has proliferated in the sport, such as the hellacious slider and triple-digit sinker are not as well-known. If pitchers don’t take too long to gather themselves, the impact on the sport will be less. Dipoto refutes that idea.
Dipoto has instructed his minor-league employees to coach against what he calls “the long burn” dating back to his days as GM of the Los Angeles Angels. He believes that pitchers should throw faster to improve their development, both for the batter and for the fielders. It makes infielders more sharp, improves pitcher’s stamina, and increases the difficulty for hitters. He found that pitchers are able to adapt quickly to pitch clocks and that their stuff doesn’t suffer if they work faster.
Said Dipoto: “Some of the stuff-iest guys I’ve ever seen are fast workers. “
Cleveland Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti: “The pitch clock won’t impact roster construction. It will all become second nature over time. It can have an impact on max ability and how long pitchers can play — I don’t think anyone has complete visibility on that. “
Forst: “There’s definitely something to be learned by how quickly a guy works. It’s difficult to quantify the skill, but we have seen pitchers in Triple-A who worked faster than those with pitch clocks. You ask them, and they will tell you that it is not necessary to work fast in the big leagues. I can take more time. ‘”
Milwaukee Brewers GM Matt Arnold: “The pitch clock will be a factor more from a training perspective than an acquisition one, but we don’t know how these are going to play out yet. It’s interesting to see how it could affect acquisitions. We just don’t know.”
St. Louis Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak: “I think pitchers are going to adapt to it. I believe hitters will have the most trouble. It’s a common tactic used by pitchers. Pitchers in rehab don’t seem have a problem. If you look at the younger guys coming up, you’ll see that they’re not having a problem. And I’m just wondering — [hitters] who have been in the league now five, 10 years, how are they gonna deal with it? Spring training will be very telling, I believe. “
Free agents it helps most: That’s really difficult to know right now. But for reference, here are the five fastest workers in baseball from 2021 to 2022, among those who threw at least 1,000 pitches, per Statcast: Wade Miley, Brent Suter, Aaron Ashby, Taijuan Walker, Josh Fleming. And the slowest (based on average tempo with the bases empty): Kyle Finnegan, Jake Diekman, Jose Suarez, Clay Holmes, Yu Darvish. Miley and Walker can be agents for free.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.