Major League Baseball is already looking forward to 2023 as they announced wide ranging group of rule changes for next season. The changes are expected to impact, and hopefully increase offensive output while also making the game more interesting for fans who want more action. Yet, the solutions that MLB came up with not only hurt the game, but reward the bad behavior which pushed the game to the point it reached thanks to the “Moneyball” trend touching every front office in the league. Yes, fans, yet again, Major League Baseball messed up their own rulebook.
No one manages to undercut their own playoff races more than Major League Baseball, who announced a series of important rule changes for the 2023 season just as they began handing out postseason berths. While the timing of these announcements are just as bad as when they announced the 2023 schedules, the rule changes MLB did make public have drawn lots of attention for all the wrong reasons since many of them are bad and will have unintended consequences. Yes, the pitch clock will hopefully prove to be a good thing if properly enforced, with the umpires’ unwillingness to the rules in place now causing the need to add a clock to the game that never needed one before. However, some rules are just silly and are being added for cosmetic reasons.
Bigger Bases: Most of Major League Baseball was pushing for a “second” first base to be added in foul territory since that’s where the batter/runner’s basepath is when a ball is put in play. Instead, in the name of safety, MLB will increase the size of each of the three bases from 15” square to 18” square in the name of safety. This extra-large pizza box is supposed to also increase stolen base attempts since runners will have the ability to reach the base easier since it will be (wait for it) 4.5 inches close to the previous base. Base size has never been a factor as to why analytics has virtually stolen the stolen base from baseball. The bigger bases are not likely to change how team view the risk of having running caught stealing vs. leaving them on base for the two or three-run home run.
Two Pickoff Max: Major League Baseball has had games slowed down for decades when speedsters like Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock reached first base. Now, MLB is telling pitchers they only can attempt to pick of a runner twice before needed to throw the ball to home plate; while a third attempt is allowed, a balk will be call if the runner is safe at first base. If the pick off is hurting the game that much and the games desperately needs stolen bases that much, then get rid of the pick off all together, something most teams won’t embrace since stealing has proven to be physically demanding on runners legs and arms (when they slide head first) and is considered a bad play by those who look at the game as if it is played on a spreadsheet, not a diamond.
Defensive Shifts: In the category of enabling bad behavior, Major League Baseball has outlawed defensive shifts in the infield with their new rule requiring two infielders be on each side of second base when each pitch is thrown. The same four defenders will also be required to keep their feet on the infield dirt rather than start any play in the outfield. I always thought the purpose of a defense was to prevent a team from getting base hits; but now, after years of trying to hit the ball over the defense, MLB has decided enough is enough, and will force hitter to use the entire field … something hitters no longer need to do since more batted balls will be hits with more room on the pull side of the field. On paper this rule makes sense, but in reality, offensives won’t change their approach in the batter’s box but will still be rewarded for their pull first mentality.
The line from the movie “A Few Good Men” that comes to mind here is, “There’s paper law, and then there’s trial law.” In this case, there’s paper baseball and then there’s real baseball. Will there be more stealing in 2023 rather than 2022? Maybe (the minor leagues saw a 0.6/attempts per game increase with the bigger bases), but it won’t be enough for the casual fans MLB wants to attract to notice. Will there be more hits? Maybe, but now pitchers will try even harder for strikeouts rather than letting hitters put the ball in play. The reality is, however, that this might have been the best Major League Baseball could do since it is clear the Analytics Departments of every baseball team is growing by the year and new owners like Steve Cohen of the New York Mets spending millions to provide programs to process more data rather than just watching games and talking to the players in uniform. The result, a game more traditional fans won’t like and those dispassionate fans won’t notice has changed, making these rules as unimportant as they could be.
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