About the Off-Season: Making Adjustments
By Tim Kabel
January 23, 2023
There has been a lot said and written about the possibility of a youth movement with the Yankees for the 2023 season. There has been a great deal of speculation and anticipation regarding Oswaldo Cabrera, Oswald Peraza, and Anthony Volpe. Many fans and pundits feel that these three players will be upgrades over the incumbents at shortstop, second base, and in the case of Cabrera, either third base or leftfield. There is something else to consider.
In 2023, there will be major rule changes in Major League Baseball. First, the shift will be eliminated. That means there will be a greater emphasis on defense and, in particular, range for the infielders. Neither Isiah Kiner-Falefa nor Gleyber Torres have tremendous range. Playing Oswald Peraza at shortstop and Anthony Volpe at second base would address this concern and most likely improve the Yankees' defense appreciably. Josh Donaldson is a very good fielder at third base but, he will be 37 years old, and we saw how his offense deteriorated last season. Could his defense slip this year?
The next major rule change will be larger bases and more importantly, the limitation on disengagements by pitchers. Although this sounds like some type of military terminology, it simply means that beginning in 2023, pitchers are allowed two disengagements per batter. In other words, they can have a total of two pickoff attempts or step-offs. Let's explore that a bit.
If one of the Yankees gets on first base, and the pitcher throws over once, the pitcher is down to one step-off or pickoff attempt. It's unlikely that he would waste that on a step off. Therefore, the second one would almost have to be a pickoff attempt. What does that mean? It means the runner can be much more aggressive in taking a lead. If the pitcher makes a second unsuccessful pickoff throw, the runner essentially has a free base. The runner can take a tremendous lead because if the pitcher throws over, it's a balk and the runner (and any others on base) gets to advance one base. If the pitcher does not throw over, the runner can attempt to steal second base. Since he would have a huge lead, it would be much less likely that the catcher would be able to throw him out
This rule change meshes perfectly with the Yankees prospective youth movement. Anthony Volpe stole 50 bases last year. Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera can both steal bases. If Estevan Florial is in the lineup, he can do so as well. He might not be a regular but, he could certainly be a pinch runner late in the game. Let's say Giancarlo Stanton drills a single up the middle in a tied game in the 9th inning. Estevan Florial could come in as a pinch runner. Following the scenario depicted above, he could steal second base fairly easily. Once he was on second base, he could get a tremendous lead there, and could possibly steal third or score more easily on a single.
The Yankees have the personnel to take advantage of these rule changes. They clearly need to make adjustments to do so. Many of us have been saying for quite some time that the Yankees need to move on from Donaldson, Kiner-Falefa, and Torres. The rule changes are yet another reason to support this.
Kiner-Falefa is relatively quick but it's clear Peraza would be an upgrade. Volpe would be a major improvement over Torres at second base in both defense and on the base paths. Torres had a relatively solid last year last season but, has been streaky and inconsistent in his career and was last season, when he went into a major funk. If Volpe is at the bottom of the lineup for example, he could get on base and move himself into scoring position for Judge or whoever else came to the plate. Donaldson slipped dramatically last year offensively. In addition, he clogs the base paths. Removing him from the team would make way for a younger, more athletic, and faster player.
Going with the youth movement would not only make the Yankees more explosive offensively, but it would also allow them to take advantage of the new rules. Particularly, an increase in stolen bases would theoretically lead to more runs being scored. With their improved pitching staff, that could lead to more victories. Defenders with greater range and quickness would also make up for the lack of a shift, putting the Yankees in a better position to reduce the number of runs scored by their opponents.
The idea of the Yankees playing their younger players was always a good one but when you add in the new rules, it's really the only thing that makes sense. They need to adjust to the new rules and thankfully, they have the players in the organization to do it.