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Rule Changes Mean Value Changes For Many Players

Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics
2023: Seth Brown congratulates Tony Kemp after hitting safely into no shift while Kemp steals 2B, 3B, and home against a powerless defense.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

MLB announced several rule changes for 2023, and how you feel about them as a player probably depends a lot on your skill set. And if you’re a low payroll team like the A’s trying to “Moneyball” your way to find hidden value, perhaps you look for players who are about to greatly benefit from the changes.

No Shifting

The rule:

Infielders will be required to set up on the infield dirt with two infielders on each side of 2B.

Blogfather Thumbs:

Up. This is a controversial one oft debated on AN. It is essentially MLB’s version of banning zone defenses and requiring a “man to man” alignment and while you can make a good case that hitters should adjust to any defense I don’t really buy the idea that fielders should necessarily be allowed to set up anywhere in fair territory.

Baseball was not created with a “short right fielder,” nor is the concept of a “third baseman” a fielder who roves on the outfield grass to the right of the 2B bag. There is plenty of room to shift defensive positioning within the constructs of the new rules and it’s worth noting that defenses will still be able to put a middle infielder pretty much behind 2B with practically 3 infielders to one side of the base.

As someone who has found the shift visually unaesthetic and lineouts to short right field just stupid, I feel banning the shift is getting us back to “real baseball” and placing increased value on “balls in play” contact.

Who is greatly affected:

Suddenly, pull hitters whose BABIPs have plummeted have a chance to shine. Yes Joey Gallo’s biggest problem is an absurd 39.2% K rate, but he is also batting .166 partly on the ‘strength’ of a .231 BA on balls in play. Normalize that to a league average .300-ish and suddenly you have added 70 points of BA and SLG.

On the A’s, keep an eye on Seth Brown as a batter who is heavily shifted against. Brown’s .228 BA still translates to a 112 wRC+, so imagine what 2023 might look like if Seth doesn’t lose over a dozen hits to the shift and if he is rewarded for swinging more for contact and not just selling out for power.

Pitch Clocks

The rule:

Pitchers must throw a pitch within 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on base or it’s an automatic ball. Hitters may only step out once per plate appearance or it’s an automatic strike.

Blogfather’s Thumbs:

Slightly Down. Not a fan of this one, personally. I don’t feel it is appropriate, or necessary, because what really slows the game down is pitchers constantly stepping off the rubber and batters stepping out (even though umpires are not supposed to let them anymore).

Whether a pitcher takes 14 seconds or 17 seconds to begin the windup is more of a personal pace that should not, in my ever so humble opinion, be interfered with in the name of speeding up a game that isn’t designed to be fast. A clock of 25 seconds, which would only impact the true outliers, would be ok in my view, but rushing so many pitchers and pushing so many to the brink of the expiring countdown seems contrary to the spirit of the game. Maybe the problem is your short attention span and not a pitcher’s need to take two deep breaths instead of one.

Who is greatly affected:

Not Cole Irvin, who shrugs and points out that he threw three pitches while you were asking. But many pitchers who customarily take longer than 15-20 seconds to deliver each pitch are going to have make an uncomfortable adjustment every single pitch.

“They have a stat for everything now” means we can see exactly whose routines will be most profoundly impacted by the pitch clock. Giovanny Gallegos of the Cardinals led all pitchers in 2022 by taking a whopping 31.7 seconds between pitches. Even at #10, Alex Vesia has a big adjustment to make from his 28.5 seconds to the new required pace.

Presumably, pitchers whose routines are slow will make the adjustment and figure out how to pitch with less time between hurls without losing their effectiveness, but pitchers are also creatures of habit and there’s no guarantee how it will impact a Gallegos or Vesia to be hurried up by roughly 33% of the time they are accustomed to taking.

I don’t know if teams will shy away from free agents or possible trade targets whose times are much slower than the new limit. But it will be interesting to see how these pitchers fare.

Limit on pickoff throws

The rule:

Pitchers can only step off/throw to a base twice before their third attempt needs to be successful or it’s a balk.

Blogfather’s Thumbs:

Down. This is the rule I am most concerned about, even though I love “small ball” and generally favor anything that rewards contact and running over the tedious “TTO — grip it and rip it” approach.

The problem here is that base runners are being given way too much power all of a sudden, to where I’m not sure pitchers are going to be able to stop the running game from getting out of hand. Then you have more of a Little League template where a fast player hits a dribbler on the infield and winds up at 3B after the requisite “leg it out, then steal 2B and 3B against the hapless defense”.

Presumably it won’t be that bad and perhaps we will see a lot more successful pickoffs of runners trying to force throws with big leads. But the main antidote to big leads and easy steals is the throw to 1B, and if that is taken away too much it’s going to be a free for all with stealing that will make a downtown Oakland looting look tame.

It’s also concerning that in combination so many big rule changes are hurting the pitchers, who now have to pitch with less nuanced defenses behind them, hurrying their pace and being afforded fewer ways to curb the running game.

Who is greatly affected:

How much more valuable did the best base stealers just get? Jorge Mateo and Cedric Mullins currently lead the American League with 30, with Jon Berti leading the majors with 32 — what if that number jumps to 60?

Elite runners who can’t hit, in the mold of Billy Hamilton, Jarrod Dyson, and Terrance Gore, just saw their value rise significantly.

Meanwhile, if the running game really takes off teams may think twice about pitchers with especially slow times to the plate and catchers who don’t throw all that well.

One thing I will say is that while I’m bearish on this rule change, no way should 32 stolen bases be leading MLB on September 10th. Maybe it’s a necessary “radical reimagining,” we’ll see.

Bigger Bases

The rule:

Bases are now even more enlarged than my prostate, increasing from 15” to 18” in the name of decreasing injuries.

Blogfather’s Thumbs:

Sideways. I don’t think this is an impactful change, as in the minor leagues it has had no measurable impact on stolen bases or anything else and I am even skeptical of how much it will affect the relatively few injuries that can be linked to the size of the base.

Who is greatly affected:

The makers of white rubber, who can now charge 20% more for bases.

Here’s your chance to weigh in on the big rule changes coming to MLB in 2023, whether or not you’re on board with them, how you think they will, or won’t, impact the game, and who you might want the A’s to target with these shifts — pun intended — in mind.