Hitting, pitching, fielding, and baserunning will all be altered in 2023.
Baseball will look a little different next season. The Joint Competition Committee ratified three MLB-proposed rule changes last Friday, all geared towards keeping players healthy, moving the game along, and increasing action.
We like to rate shit at the Peanut Gallery, so that's what I'll be doing.
All four infielders must stand within the edge of the infield dirt when the pitch is released. No cleats on the grass.
Infielders may not switch sides. The alignment must be 3B, SS, 2B, 1B from left to right. No switching your 3B over to the hole between 1B and 2B because he's your best fielder, for example.
If either of these rules are broken, the opposing team can elect an automatic ball for the batter or the result of the pitch. e.g. If an infielder has his cleats in the grass while the batter hits a home run, the offense can take the home run. Doesn't have to be a ball.
A team may place an outfielder in the infield or shallow outfield grass if they wish. But they may not position an infielder in the outfield. No four-man outfield alignments.
Not crazy about this one. This change was brought on to increase hitters' batting averages on balls in play. Shifts have become a science now, with teams swapping and moving fielders all over the field based on a hitter's inclinations in a given situation. As a result, hitters are generally less successful, in terms of batting average, when they put the ball in play, even though they're hitting the ball harder than they ever have. With this new rule, you'll no longer see a guy like Joey Gallo hit a 110 MPH liner right to an infielder standing in shallow right field.
This rule admits the stubbornness and defeat of the modern hitter. I'm gonna sound like an old head here, but the Joey Gallos of the world should learn to slap the ball the other way. "DERRRR BUT IT'S NOT WHAT WE GET PAID TO DO DERRRR." Spare me. You don't get paid to exclusively drive the ball to the pull side. You get paid to have productive at bats and help your team win. Suggesting that you could/should/would get an extra hit a game by, quite literally, tapping the ball in any way shape or form to a completely abandoned side of the infield should not produce such a pertinacious reaction.
And guess what? The more you play pepper, THE LESS LIKELY TEAMS WILL BE TO SHIFT! That's what you wanted in the first place wasn't it??? It bothers me when strategy is met by forfeit, which is what this is in my opinion. Yes, pitchers are nastier than ever, but you will never convince me that the athletes with the best hand-eye coordination on the planet can not learn to successfully tap the ball the other way, via by bunt or guided swing. Hell, most of the time pitchers are living on the outside corner anyway, since a pitch on the inner half is more likely to get hit to where no fielders are. They're not pitching to coerce batters into hitting into the shift, they just are. There are multiple opportunities for a slap single or double in every game, for the hitters who are shifted on.
But nah. Big man hit ball far. This hardheadedness isn't really MLB's fault; offenses have forced their hand by not adjusting to the shift. Still, I wouldn't have included the cleats-in-the-dirt rule, as I worry no shifts and limited infielder depth will cause a greater offensive boom than MLB wants. But I guess I can't fault the league completely, since I place most of the blame on hitters. Did I make that last part clear in my rant or no?
PG Score: 6/10
MLB bases will now be 18"x18". They have long been 15"x15".
No real complaints here. You see guys get injured on the bases (literally) every season. Someone's foot will slip off and he'll roll an ankle or blow out a knee. People get stepped on sliding head first, or their fingers/wrists get tweaked reaching for the bag. A little more room to work with will decrease the rate of these unfortunate injuries.
It also won't be that noticeable. 3" isn't a huge change aesthetically. I doubt you'll notice it after a while on TV or when you're at a ballgame. Steals might go up a tad, since 2nd and 3rd base is technically a smidge closer now for base runners.
This isn't an Earth-shattering rule change. But it has no obvious flaws from my perspective.
PG Score: 10/10
Clock will be set to 30 seconds between batters.
The catcher must be ready with at least nine seconds remaining.
The hitter must have both feet in the box and "be alert to the pitcher" with at least eight seconds remaining.
Pitcher will have 20 seconds to begin his delivery with runners on base, and 15 seconds with no one on.
Pitchers who run out of time will be charged with a ball, while batters who take too long will receive a strike.
Pitchers are allowed to disengage from the rubber twice per batter (this includes any kind of step-off).
The pitcher may step off a third time to attempt a pickoff, but he must be successful. The runner advances if he is safe.
Ok. A lot to unpack here. In reality, there were four rule changes not three, since the pitch timer and the mound disengagements rules are mostly unrelated. But they both help with pace of play, so I guess MLB puts them under the same umbrella.
The timer is...fine. Potential downsides include more injuries and worse at bats by hitters. Less time between pitches equals less time to to catch one's breath, which is problematic after firing a 100-MPH heater, and less time to think, which is problematic for the hitter. This will shorten games, something that sends Commissioner Manfred from 6 o'clock to midnight. So that's good, I guess. Overall, the timer will probably be a net positive for baseball.
The mound disengagement rule is tricky. You will have situations in which a stolen base is basically a guarantee, both due to not wanting to attempt a pickoff a third time for fear of a balk and/or the pitch timer running out. The stolen base is an exciting part of baseball that has sadly decreased in popularity. More of them is cool, but not if the runner is safe by a mile.
You also incentivize being safe at the base you came from, as opposed to advancing. For example, say there's a runner on 1st and 3rd. The pitcher has already disengaged from the rubber twice for whatever reason. He thinks he can nab the runner at 1st though, who has gotten an abnormally large lead. He throws over, but the speedy runner still makes it back to the 1st base bag in time. Balk. Runner on 3rd scores and runner on 1st goes to 2nd.
Now, let's say the runner on 1st breaks for 2nd as the pitcher throws over, and makes it. He's safe, but it's no longer a balk, it's a stolen base. Meaning the runner on 3rd does not automatically score; he can try, but it's at his own risk. With this rule in place, it's better to be safe at 1st base than 2nd base. Weird.
Another odd situation. Man on 1st and 3rd again. Pitcher steps off for the third and final time in an attempt to pick off the runner at 1st. He gets caught in a rundown. Meanwhile, the opportunistic runner on 3rd breaks for home, but he's a little too eager. The rundown is halted as the throw beats him to home plate. Out, right? Maybe, but what happens if the runner on 1st, who was in the rundown, simply trots back to 1st when the throw heads to home plate? He's safe at the base he came from after a third attempted pickoff, meaning it should be a balk (remember, it's better to be safe at 1st than 2nd with this rule in place). If it's a balk, that means all runners advance safely. Is the guy on 3rd now safe at home? I'm sure MLB is aware of every possible wrinkle and that most, if not all, have already been ironed out in the Minors. It's just a little funky.
I wouldn't have included the disengagement rule. I like the cat and mouse game between pitcher/catcher and runner. The timer is ok. I'm sure everyone will get used to it. For what it's worth, this is the pace pitchers use to work at during baseball's heyday, in terms of popularity.
PG Score: 7.5/10
You have to give credit to Rob Manfred; he never gives up. It's always been his goal to increase the pace and action level of baseball, and goddamnit he's gonna do whatever he can to make that happen. These rules have all been tested in the Minor Leagues and have apparently produced satisfactory results.
So gear up for 2023. Baseball will have undergone a bit of a makeover.