This past Friday, as we were all settling in to tune in to Amazon Prime and not watch the Yankees game, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced 3 new rule changes for 2023.
In all honesty, it was actually the MLB Competition Committee that approved the new rule changes.
Rule changes in professional and even big time college sports are not unheard of. Here are few that come to mind.
The Tuck Rule in the NFL
Three second violation in the NBA
NCAA basketball shot clock moved to 30 seconds.
PGA wind rule
The Avery Rule in the NHL
NFL horse collar rule
MLB home plate collisions (don’t get me started)
NFL onside kick rule
Most of these rule changes were incorporated for safety or to inject more offense into the games.
So what did MLB just do?
Photo by Rich Schultz
First off, and as part of the ongoing battle with “pace of play”, they announced a pitch clock. Next year pitcher’s will have to deliver the ball within 15 seconds when the bases are empty. They will be given an extra 5 seconds with runners on base.
So much for the old cliché that there is no clock in baseball.
Earlier this season I took in a Somerset Patriots game (Volpe is the real deal!) , and I noticed the pitch clock. It never came into play during the entire 9 inning game.
I don’t think many in attendance even knew there was a pitch clock.
So, if this makes the league happy, I really don’t have an opinion one way or the other. But my question is; why not just enforce the current rules?
That would solve the issue.
I reached out to the "Human Rain Delay" Mike Hargrove, but he had no comment!!
The second new rule announced was something that I feel needed to be addressed; the infamous "Shift".
If you read my pieces here at SSTN, I have made it unambiguously clear that I despise the Shift. I think it is ruining the game, dumbing down the game, making the game less exciting, taking away brilliant defensive plays, and putting a huge disadvantage on left handed hitters, in addition to artificially enhancing pitcher’s statistics.
So, the new rule will require the defensive team to have 2 players on each side of second base, and be positioned on the actual infield.
I am happy to see the shift go the way of the subway token and the 8 track tape. My only issue is why didn’t MLB hitters, the best hitters on the planet, just hit against the shift? Why didn’t they simply exploit a weak defensive positioning scheme, and force teams to figure out a real way of getting hitters out?
Such as pitchers actually making good pitches!
It was a bad joke from the beginning and it was long overdue. However, I would rather have it become extinct because it was ridiculous and was exploited by MLB hitters, instead of being legislated out of existence.
But, if that is what it takes to get the game back to where it should be, so be it. Fine by me.
Next season a line drive to short right field will be what it always was. A base hit!
Here is where they lost me.
Next season the bases will be larger. Apparently a 15 inch square base is suddenly too small?
Next season the bases will be 18 inch squares.
MLB is telling us that larger bases (experiments in the minor leagues) have reduced base related injuries by 13.5%.
I have serious doubts about that. Injuries to who? Runners or fielders? First of all, I can’t even remember when the size of the base caused an injury, and I am good for 200 plus games a year for the last (I don’t know) 35 years.
When did a player land on the disabled list due to the size of second base?
If anything, why not make the surface of the base less slippery, especially in the rain. That is really the only time I have seen a base cause an injury.
I will never forget Bryce Harper in 2017 slipping on a wet first base, getting carried off the field and ending up on the DL with a hyper extended knee?
Why did he slip? The game was delayed for well over an hour due to rain. The base was wet, and the surface was slippery.
Sometime around 1839, baseball was invented. The bases were 90 feet apart.
Now the larger bases reduce that by 4.5 inches and they will be 85.5 feet apart.
Photo by Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
This is really the only rule change I can remember (see list above) that actually changes the dimensions of the playing field.
Should the NBA lower the bucket by 4.5 inches?
Should the NFL make it only 9.5 yards for a first down?
Should the NHL increase the size of the goalie net by 4.5 inches?
No. No. and No.
That is my biggest problem with this rule. Mr. Commissioner, if you want a bigger base to avoid injuries, fine. I don’t see it personally, but fine. But why are you changing the dimensions of our fields?
If player safety is such a huge concern, does it not seem to be a little hypocritical to now shorten the distance a runner has to run, on let’s say, a double play, and by doing so puts the sliding runner closer to the middle infielder's knees and legs nearly a half a foot sooner?
While the Commissioner praised these new rules, the MLBPA was not in favor of most of the rule changes.
Shocker. These two sides did not agree!
Maybe they believe that larger bases and a shorter distance between bases will encourage more action on the base paths? That is possible. And it’s safe to say that a close play at 90 feet is a guarantee safe call at 85.5 feet.
Don't forget that pitchers "will be limited to a total of two “step offs” or “pickoffs” per plate appearance while there is at least one runner on base. A pitcher may attempt a third step off or pickoff in the same plate appearance; however, if the runner safely returns to the occupied base, the result is a balk".
Clearly, the league wants more action on the base paths.
I am not quite sure what the actual motivation is for for all of this.
But, as I have learned in my field of business, always follow the money!
Could it possibly be related to trying to inject more stolen bases into the game because gambling metrics suggest more “prop” bets will be placed if there are more stolen base attempts?
I wouldn’t bet against that. Especially since MLB has partnered with all of these gambling platforms and the money is now pouring in.
How that will impact game scores, game ending plays, roster construction, outfielder’s and infielders assist statistics, catchers throw out percentages and pitcher’s ERA’s is yet to be determined.
How it impacts an infielder’s knees is yet to be determined (yes I am bias, I used to be one).
How it impacts MLB's gambling revenue stream is yet to be determined.
One can only imagine if Lou Brock or Rickey Henderson played in 2023.
Heck, Steve Balboni could probably steal 20 bases in 2023!
It is hard enough to take a short hop and try to tag a speeding athlete with his spikes in the air and the ball in your glove at 90 feet. Try doing that with a world class athlete bearing down on you from only 85.5 feet with spikes coming at you.
It doesn’t seem like a lot, but trust me, it is.
How many close calls in big games over the years would never have happened if the base distance was only 85.5 feet?
I can tell this much, go back to Andy Pettitte’s game 5 gem in the 1996 World Series (link below), and let me know if John Smoltz would have been called out at third base if it was only 85.5 feet away instead of 90.
With the enlarged base and shortened distance, it’s quite possible history would have been changed. Remember, that was a 1-0 game in a 2-2 series. Every inch mattered on that play.
Just this past Wednesday evening at Fenway, the new base distance would have resulted in J.D. Martinez being called safe at first, instead of an inning ending double play in the 8th.
That turned out to be the key play in the Yankees securing a win.
Let's not forget that not many of us know for sure exactly how many inches those "oven mitts" now worn by many baserunners these days actually adds to the length of their arms as they do a head first slide. Needless to say it certainly shortens the distance even more than the 85.5 feet that will now be official.
I may be wrong, but it seems to me that it is just another "new" rule that cheapens this great game, even more.
Part of the beauty of baseball is understanding how extremely difficult it is to play, while watching professionals make it look easy.
Well, Mr. Commissioner, you just took a piece of that away. It just got a lot easier to run the bases.
Now, if we could only do something to get rid of the ridiculous "Manfred Man" (extra inning ghost runner)!!
So much for the old cliché that baseball is a game of inches!
Today's Trivia- From 1949-1955 one player led the Yankees in RBI each season. Who was that?
Today's Tip: It might not be a bad idea to go check out the Somerset Patriots; Harrison Bader and Jasson Dominguez have now joined Austin Wells and his teammates.