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2023 MLB Primer: The Winds of Change

What’s Manfred been up to lately?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Commisioner Press Conference Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Opening Day is nearly upon us. After an especially long winter, baseball’s return is a light at the end of the tunnel for the citizens of Twins Territory. Falvey and Levine had a busy off-season, and on paper, the Twins look poised to challenge for a playoff spot or more.

You know who else had a busy offseason? The oft-(and rightfully-)maligned commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred. MLB’s product is going to look a little bit different this year. Let’s go over the changes that we’ll be seeing this year.

Shift Ban

One of the more contentious changes, the league has finally stepped in to ban the shift. Two infielders must be on each side of second base and on the dirt (or infield grass) when each pitch is thrown. Outfield shifts may become more prevalent as a result, as we’ve already seen when Joey Gallo is up to bat a few times this spring. My take? Yes, shifted hitters should have “just” adjusted their approach to hit around the shift. However, they hadn’t, they weren’t going to, and it’s because the math said that hitting over the shift was the “right” thing to do. The product was worse off for it. The shift ban will result in more balls in play, which is the definition of “more action” in baseball, and we’ll be better off as a result.

Larger Bases

MLB, both as a safety measure and an attempt to increase one of the more exciting plays in the game- stolen bases- has made first, second, and third base three square inches larger each. This decreases the baselines between these bases by 4.5 inches, which will theoretically tip the risk/reward scale more to reward’s side and encourage more base theft.

Pitch Clock

Another change that could encourage more base stealing, the pitch clock will be instituted this season. While it is more directly being used to try and shorten games from their 3 hour, 6 minute average last season, the pitch clock is the one change I can see some major unintended consequences for.

From USA Today:

“There is a 30-second timer between batters and a time limit between pitches. After receiving the ball from the catcher or umpire, pitchers are required to begin their motion within 15 seconds with the bases empty or within 20 seconds with runners on base. If they don’t, they’re charged with an automatic ball.

Hitters also share the responsibility to keep the game moving. They must be in the batter’s box and ready for the pitch by the time the clock reaches 8 seconds. If not, they’re charged with an automatic strike. A batter can call time out only once per plate appearance.”

Additionally, pitchers are limited to two unsuccessful pickoff attempts per plate appearance. They can throw over a third time, but if they don’t get the runner out, it’s an automatic balk.

These two rules combined will be interesting for the running game. If a pitcher burns his first two pickoff throws, I’m curious to see how hesitant they are to go for a third. Runners could get very bold with this. Additionally, if the pitcher is running out of time to begin his motion, they could (theoretically) get an incredible jump by watching the timer. I’m pro-faster paced game, but I’m sparing judgment about the use of this rule to get there until we see it in action.

Manfred Man

No, it’s not a ghost runner. No, it didn’t end up being temporary. Going forward, all regular season extra innings will “permanently” begin with a runner on second base. I don’t like it in theory, I don’t like it in practice, I don’t like it at all. I wouldn’t mind starting it in the 12th, but losing the game in the 10th without giving up a hit, or giving up only one hit, will never sit right with me.

Scheduling Changes

Partially due to the continued incompetence of much of the AL Central, MLB has revamped how the 162-game schedule is broken down. The number of divisional matchups is decreasing from 76 to 52 games- facing each foe 13 times instead of 19. This will allow for each team to play every other team this season. Instead of playing the Dodgers once in a blue moon, the Twins will face them and every other team each season for as long as this format is kept in place.

The full breakdown:

52 divisional games

64 non-divisional league games

46 interleague games

Of the 46 interleague games, 4 will be played against each team’s “natural rival”, which I believe to be a cool concept. The natural rival for the Twins is the Brewers, so they’ll play 2 at Target Field and 2 at American Family Field for their home-and-home series.

I think the scheduling changes are a rare home run for MLB management. It’ll be cool to get to watch, both on TV and at Target Field, the Twins play more different teams than we have gotten to in the past. It also provides more exposure to more markets for the league’s stars, which can only be a good thing.

What do you think about the 2023 rule changes? What do you like? What don’t you like? Drop a comment and let us know!