Last week, MLB announced several rule changes for 2023, including a pitch clock, restrictions on defensive shifting and larger bases. This article here last Friday has details, and I wanted to add a few more thoughts now, since Cubs outfielder Ian Happ has weighed in on a couple of the changes. Happ, as an alternate, participated in some of MLB’s Competition Committee discussions on the changes.
Several players and managers weighed in on the changes in this MLB.com article. Here’s Happ on defensive shifting:
“As a left-handed hitter, I think the shift going away is huge. Just purely aesthetically, looking out there and not having seven guys over there is nice. There’s a real skill to the game for left-handed hitters, when there’s a guy on first [to be] able to hit it in that hole. It makes it so that guy can’t just throw you changeups because there’s so many players over there. If you can get out in front of the changeup and hook it in the four hole, those are real advantages. I hit a line drive up the middle yesterday, the shortstop was on the right side of the bag and caught it. Those things going away, I think it’s going to be a more visually appealing game. You’re going to have guys like [Kyle] Schwarber and [Anthony] Rizzo that smash the ball on the right side 115 miles an hour. Those are going to be hits again.”
This is the key, I think, to the reasoning behind the shift restrictions. I’m tired of seeing the third baseman in short right field turning ground balls that a decade or so ago would have been hits into outs. Shifting isn’t being “banned,” as some say, it’s just going to have to be modified.
Mike Petriello of MLB.com explains some of the possible modifications in this interesting Twitter thread. First, here’s how infielders will have to be positioned, two on each side of second base:
I thought this might be an interesting way to visualize the new positioning rules. (Fixed an earlier error about outfielders.)— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) September 10, 2022
This is it. This is all that matters. Setting aside P/C, you just have to have at least 4 infielders, and 2 on either side.
So ... pic.twitter.com/rzGBzfp1by
So theoretically, you could still put the third baseman and shortstop very close to second base for a lefthanded hitter, sort of like this:
... if you want to torment Joey Gallo, you can still torment Joey Gallo. You just risk a lot more than a single if he goes to LF. pic.twitter.com/EMBvuXQjzd— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) September 10, 2022
The dot just on the grass behind second base in that diagram, just to make it clear, is an outfielder. Replace “Joey Gallo” with “Jason Heyward” to get the idea of how it would affect a Cubs-related player. Teams could, conceivably, have five-man infields — you can do that, you just have to have a minimum of four:
If you want to have a 5-man IF, you can still do a 5-man IF. You just have to have a min of 4 infielders, at least 2 on either side. pic.twitter.com/oNaCojioL9— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) September 10, 2022
In certain situations, I can see teams doing this, for example, in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game, where you want to make sure no ball gets through the infield and where a medium-deep fly ball (with a runner on third) is going to end the game anyway.
Then there’s this, which is just silly, though certainly amusing:
If you wanted to lose your mind and make absolutely sure nothing gets through the right side, well, this is a bad idea, but you could try it pic.twitter.com/s31xt7grI1— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) September 10, 2022
For those of you who want more strategy in the game, these changes have probably accomplished that:
I really like this way of describing it. Like I still wish there was no restriction at all but I like the added risk and strategy of it.https://t.co/LFumn8hJ52— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) September 11, 2022
One last note: Teams can challenge defensive positioning. Say an out is made and the hitting team thinks the defense wasn’t following this rule. They can challenge. This could wind up slowing games down.
When the rule changes were announced last Friday, it was noted that the players on the Competition Committee had voted unanimously against the pitch clock. This is what Happ had to say about it:
“The batter has one chance to call time. We play at Wrigley Field in April. It’s brutal. It’s cold. It’s windy. If I can’t see, and I call time once, am I not able to call time later in the event where the wind is blowing 20 miles an hour in my face? Am I not able to call time when I hit a foul ball and my hands feel like they’re going to fall off? There’s real things in there. The umpire has the discretion to give you time if something like that happens, but leaving it up to umpire discretion is a tough thing when you’re looking at the back of the baseball card and getting called out on strikes because you’re not looking at the pitcher at a certain time. Those are real concerns for players. The disengagements, the ability to hold runners and just the sheer time on the clock. Guys having to change their routines or adapt the way they go about their business, and they’ve been playing this game for a long time at this level. Just some of the little things that would have helped players get behind a little bit more.”
No doubt, there are days like that at Wrigley Field in April (and sometimes well into May). What Happ hasn’t accounted for here is that the pitcher is also subject to the time restriction, and must be ready to pitch in cold, windy conditions like that.
One thing we hear often on modern baseball broadcasts is pitchers “executing” pitches. This isn’t terminology that was used decades ago, and what I believe it means is that pitchers are taking more time between pitches to give maximum effort on every pitch. It’s one reason we don’t see starting pitchers go deep into games anymore — they’re leaving it all on the field for the first 100 (or so) pitches.
With the pitch clock, this won’t be possible in many circumstances. What that might do is lessen the number of 95 mile per hour plus pitches early in games. It might actually give hitters better pitches to hit, even on the cold, windy days Happ describes above.
I am looking forward to faster-paced games once the pitch clock is instituted. Umpires are going to have to be serious about enforcing it and calling automatic balls (on pitchers) or automatic strikes (on hitters), though. It won’t work if it’s not strictly enforced.
What might really cause some problems are what are being termed the “disengagement” provisions. Here’s how MLB described this in its press release announcing the new rules:
A pitcher may disengage the rubber (timer resets) twice per plate appearance without penalty.
Subsequent disengagements result in a balk, unless an out is recorded on a runner.
The disengagement count resets if the runner advances; testing in the Minors had no reset until the following plate appearance.
So if the pitcher throws to first base twice during a plate appearance, the runner knows he can take a huge lead and take off for second — unless the defensive team throws him out, it’s a balk. This can also be challenged. So — we might wind up with more replay reviews under these rule changes.
I suspect some of this is going to have to be tweaked when it comes into existence next year. There’s a high chance of unintended consequencess.