I think the new rules are probably the biggest topic of the spring other than the inevitable injuries to players that shake up the plans for the entire season, and most of this has to do with the pitch clock. Of course there is also the World Baseball Classic, but as one game famously took like three hours to play four innings, the stark difference between the WBC play and what we’ve experienced so far with spring training games with rigid rules enforcement in place is clear:
That was last week, so there’s another week’s worth of data since, and we should probably wait for the 2023 season to be over before we make too many judgments, but what we’ve seen so far tracks with what I (and thousands of people smarter than I) thought would happen. I know fans (and probably players and agents) hate Rob Manfred, but letting Theo Epstein work with tweaking the game seems to have created a more brisk and enjoyable product, even with the quirks that include the rare and controversial scenario with the automatic strike to end games. This one isn’t a game-ender, but it was pretty funny and you can bet Elvis Andrus probably won’t do this again anytime soon:
I’m guessing that MLB will take a look at the player response to the rules on the field as well as their comments (most of which seem to be coming from Max Scherzer but maybe he’s just more up front about it) and adjust accordingly, but as far as I can tell they are committed to the bit of making sure the rules are strictly adhered to. These new rules were barely introduced in a baptism of fire to MLB players when we got a report from Baseball America that more rules implementations were coming to Minor League Baseball. I recommend you just read the article (I don’t think it’s behind a paywall but who knows with cookies anymore) but it can be broken down thusly:
- Pitch clock coming to all levels, with slight adjustments for the allotted time with runners on dependent on the level, with more alignment with MLB standard
- Experiments with placement of the bigger bases
- Assessing the “pie slice” rule in the Florida State League only (or so it seems)
- The use of PitchCom at AAA only, but it seems only the catcher can call pitches
- Variations of the automatic ball-strike system (roboumps)
- Pre-sticky baseballs?
The Cubs and other teams will already be trying to squeeze any advantage they can from the current rule changes, but if these rules as outlined above test well in the minors, you can almost guarantee that they’ll show up in some form at the MLB level. Here are the snippets I found most interesting from the Baseball America report…
All Your Base Are Belong To Us
So the bases are going to be 18 inches to a side again, just like the new big pizza box base that has improved stolen base success, but I recall Jayson Stark wrote about how second base is actually centered along the baseline rather than tangent (maybe tangent? Usually it’s a term for circles but I mean how the square will hug a line with its edge, math majors help) to the baseline. The league apparently has the right to move second base completely within the boundary of the baselines, which will move the inside edge effectively closer to the other bases.
I Like Pie
One of the concerns (even from our last Dreamcast) was that even with the shift restrictions on defense, a middle infielder can just be right next to the bag and snag liners and ground balls up the middle anyway. The numbers outlined above in Passan’s tweet suggest that is not the case, possibly because they simply don’t have as much time or space to react, so I don’t think this next rule is going to come to the big leagues right away. That being said, the Florida State League is apparently the only testing ground for the “pie slice” rule, which the Athletic wrote about last summer but I was unable to find any actual images of boundaries painted in the infield dirt. The idea is that there are lines extending the baselines past second base to create a sort of “demilitarized zone” where the infielders cannot stand before the pitch and let more ground balls potentially get through the middle. Again, because more balls are going through already even without the “pie slice” in spring training, I don’t think MLB wants to do this imminently, and it seems most middle infielders are giving second base a couple feet of breathing room anyway so they don’t get called for a violation, but I thought this was interesting, and more baserunners means more fun so I’m all for it if they decide to do it.
Has to At Least Be Better Than Angel Hernandez, Right?
I shared this in the other thread, but this is our favorite umpire to hate since Joe West retired doing a typically awesome job behind the plate:
We know the so-called “robo ump” has been tested in various capacities in the minors, but it sounds like AAA and the Florida State League will be testing two versions of the automatic ball-strike (ABS) systems. In some games, ABS gets all the calls, whereas in others, there will be a challenge system in place where either the batter or the battery can dispute a call by the home plate umpire. If you want to listen, Harry Pavlidis hung out with me once upon a time (before the technology vastly improved) where he was mostly against the roboump, but then he kind of relaxed his stance last spring. Since most fans and broadcasts have some form of pitch tracking anyway and every mistake by the human umpire is highlighted for all to criticize, I’m guessing ABS in MLB is coming as soon as next year since Rob Manfred can probably unilaterally implement it anyway.
One of the last rules discussed was “Enhanced Grip Baseballs,” in which the league worked with Dow Chemical to find a standardized grip substance that wasn’t that secret Delaware mud that is known only to one family. I think MLB baseballs are still rubbed up with family secret mud, but these new baseballs to be tested in the minors are allegedly identical to baseballs to be used in MLB this season. Only Southern League teams will be using these balls for half the season so they can compare data between the “enhanced” balls and the “traditional” balls. I bet you never thought you’d learn so much about rubbing balls, but that’s what you can expect from the 478th-best Cubs blog (or whatever it is now).