Major League Baseball will look markedly different in 2023, with pitching hours introduced, larger bases introduced, and defensive changes virtually outlawed. But the effects of these changes may begin to be felt as the lists are being formed. Industry front office executives gathered at the General Managers’ Meetings in Las Vegas earlier this month and spent a lot of time discussing how the new rules could affect how players are judged.
Consensus, basically: “We’ll see.”
We know that the pace of the game, the priority for the league, will be faster. (According to data provided by MLB, the average playing time in the minor leagues last season decreased by 26 minutes, including field hours, from 3 hours 4 minutes to 2 hours 38 minutes.) How much the three new rules can affect the course of games and, therefore, to form teams. MLB, constantly chasing casual fans, doesn’t just want to cut playing time; he needs more balls in the game, more action on the bases, maybe eventually more pitches from the pitchers. He needs a new way to win – an aspiration that should inspire the architects of sports to be creative.
“It’s going to be fun trying to figure out where we have opportunities to win with these new rules and there might not be another team,” Boston Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said. “Why can’t we be the first to take advantage of these opportunities? For the most part, we’re trying to stick to what we know the players are doing to help us win baseball games. I don’t think it will change drastically. it’s something dramatic, it could come from something we haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about and we won’t know until 30 teams play them.”
But people like Bloom will still spend most of their offseason looking forward to it. It’s work, essentially. What follows is their prevailing opinion on how hours on the field, large bases and shift restrictions can affect club evaluation systems.
It’s a good time to be a left hand hitter
This was the most popular opinion among executives when asked about the types of players who could get the most value with the new rules. A quick look at the numbers confirms their theory. Last season, this shift was used in 34% of plate appearances, nearly three times as many as just five years earlier. According to Sportzshala Stats & Information research, in 2022, left-handers were biased against a whopping 55% of the time. The batting average per game by left-handed hitters was .283, the lowest all-season batting average since 1989 (for right-handers, who flopped 34% of the time, it was .296). Their BABIP on ground balls was a measly .219.
Offsetting rules require all four fielders to place both feet on the outside boundary of the infield; two of them must be on either side of second base. These caps were used at double tier and both grade A levels last season and saw only a modest increase in BABIP (left-handed hitters’ BABIP on ground balls rose from .240 to .249 year on year). But the shifts are much more noticeable in the major leagues, where all of a sudden you don’t see that extra infielder in shallow right field—a potential boon for a powerful left-handed hitter.
A prime example of their growing value has already been Jock Pederson, who earned $13 million from free agents in 2021 and 2022 but accepted a $19.65 million qualifying offer from the San Francisco Giants for 2023. Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi spoke to reporters shortly after Pederson accepted the offer and said, “If you ask Jock, he probably thinks he’s going to win the championship next year.”
Jerry Dipoto, President of the Seattle Mariners baseball team: “I can’t think of a team I’ve spoken to so far that hasn’t expressed interest in acquiring left-handed strikes. I really think this is the most obvious difference. I don’t know if this will immediately affect the formation of the composition, but I think it will affect how the game is played. If this does not affect the formation of the composition now, it will affect it in a year.”
Detroit Tigers President Scott Harris: “The shift ban opens up new opportunities for left-handed attackers. This is the demographic that ate bats with the shift.”
Cincinnati Reds General Manager Nick Krall: “On offense, bullet guys will look better.”
Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Brandon Gomez: “My feeling would be a left-handed batter [will attain more value], just to be able to stack more hits instead of just dealing damage. This would be my choice. You could argue with many other things. But we don’t really know what the feed clock will do. There might be a bunch of things that we don’t even appreciate right now that are playing out.”
Free agents help the most: Twelve qualified players were replaced on over 75% of the fields they saw from 2017 to 2022. They are, in descending order: Chris Davis, Carlos Santana, Joey Gallo, Justin Smoak, Kyle Tucker, Jordan Alvarez, Matt Carpenter, Jay Bruce, Mitch Moreland, Matt Olson, Brandon Belt and Max Munsey. Santana, Gallo, Carpenter and Belt are free agents this offseason.
Speed - especially for outfield players with range – will be at a premium.
The end of extreme shifts means fielders, especially in the middle, will be tasked with covering more ground. Teams will have a harder time getting away with non-traditional second basemen, and shortstops with an above-average range are likely to become more important.
This is where leaders are now focused, but there is also a basic component, although the potential impact in this area remains a mystery.
The base dimensions will increase from 15 to 18 square inches, reducing the distance between first and second, second and third by 4.5 inches (three inches from house to first and from third to house). MLB attributed this to injury prevention (according to the league, base-related injuries across the four minor league levels for the entire season increased from 453 in 2021 to 392 in 2022 when larger bases were introduced). But perhaps base stealing, a dying skill that fascinates fans, will see a resurgence. There were just 0.68 base steal attempts per team game this season, the fourth-lowest since 1969, which marks the beginning of the division era. The only years in this segment with a lower rate are 2019, 2020 and 2021.
All-season minor league levels have risen from 2.23 base steal attempts and a 68% success rate in 2019 to 2.83 with a 77% success rate in 2022, according to MLB data, which appears to be the result of both larger bases. as well as the new rule. this would limit pitchers to two pick attempts per plate appearance.
Washington Nationals President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo: “Athleticism will be an advantage, as it will affect the changes in both offense and defense. It will be a slow build process to see how it works.”
Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Khan: “The field clock will be the biggest adjustment because it will be in every game, but the shift will have the biggest impact in terms of lineup building. You will need to see more athleticism from your center fielders than you could ever get away with.”
Harris: “Change inhibition creates a higher range bonus inside the field because you can’t cover range by getting into your familiar position. You take that into account when making decisions when it comes to personnel.”
Krall: “Without a shift, we’re going to look at the infield defense a little differently.”
Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer: “You can’t hide guys on shift anymore. You want athleticism to cover that space. The days of some below average guys playing second base are gone. It’s worth thinking about.”
Miami Marlins GM Kim Ng: “I think you’re going to see more athletic second basemen than we’ve seen in the last few years.”
Oakland Athletics General Manager David Forst: “I heard talk about it. I think we have a good idea of a player’s athleticism, his ability, how he moves behind the ball in the infield. I don’t play second base every time just because we can’t switch. You will still be able to move it around. I think maybe it’s a little exaggerated, but obviously you need a little more range to play just about anywhere.”
Free agents help the most with: Trea Turner, this offseason’s coveted shortstop, is one of the fastest players in the sport. His value as an elite base stealer has become even higher. Don’t forget second baseman free agents like Gene Segura, Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison.
WANTED: Pitchers who can run faster without compromising their ability.
MLB’s primary motivation for pitching hours is to speed up the pace and reduce play time. He also sees a health component, noting that minor league pitcher injuries have increased from 1,058 in 2021 to 782 in 2022. The league believes the cumulative effect is to play shorter games, sleep more and allow the body to recover over a longer period of time. could play a part in the failure. Another, less publicized hope is that the cartoonish things that have spread the sport – the nasty slider, the three-figure sinker, etc. – will disappear if it doesn’t take pitchers so long to get together. Some, such as Dipoto, refute this view.
Dipoto has instructed his minor league staff to coach against what he calls “the long burn” from his days as the general manager of the Los Angeles Angels. He believes it’s better for pitcher, slugger, and fielder development when pitchers throw at a faster pace. This keeps the infielders sharper, increases the stamina of the pitchers, and increases the level of difficulty for the hitters. He found that pitchers can adapt to pitching hours fairly quickly, and he found that their stuff didn’t…