【N.J】 What to expect from MLB’s rule changes? More action – – – New Jersey News

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In 1920, both of baseball’s major leagues agreed to outlaw the spitball. An exception was made for 17 active pitchers who were permitted to use the pitch for the remainder of their careers, but otherwise, all foreign substances were banned.

In 1929, the American League decreed that fair balls that bounce over the outfield fence would henceforth be doubles instead of home runs. The National League adopted the same rule two years later.

In 1969, both leagues agreed to reduce the height of the pitchers’ mound from 15 inches to 10 inches.

In 1973, the American League introduced the designated hitter — a tenth player in the lineup who would not play in the field but would bat in place of the pitcher. For nearly five decades the leagues played by different rules until the National League accepted the DH in 2022.

There you are. In four small paragraphs you have the history of baseball’s significant rules changes in last century and a quarter.

If you’re thinking that baseball is reluctant to make changes, I’m thinking you’re right. At least you were right until today.

Today is different. Today is unprecedented. Today is historic.

Today — opening day of the 2023 season — we will see the debut of not one, but four new rules. At least three of them should be classified as significant. Nothing remotely similar to this ever happened before.

1) A pitch clock will be visible in all stadiums. With the bases empty the pitcher will have 15 seconds, starting from the moment he receives the ball, to deliver the next pitch. With runner(s) on base he gets 20 seconds. A violation will mean a ball is added to the count on the batter. The hitter must be ready to hit when the clock reaches eight seconds, or he will have a strike called against him. Once during each at bat a hitter may call time out and re-start the clock — but only once.

This rule is designed to speed up the game and I would anticipate that it will do exactly that. I think it cracks down on slow hitters more than it does on slow pitchers. Most good pitchers are fast workers. Smart hitters like to break up their rhythm by repeatedly stepping out of the box. This rule puts a stop to that assures a livelier pace and probably a shorter game.

If problems arise, they will likely be caused by the fact that the clock operators will be new at the job and — after all — they are only human. Inevitably, somebody’s going to start the clock too early or too late. Somebody’s going to push the 15-second button when he should push the 20, or vice versa.

By the way, the clock operators in each park will probably be local people. I hope steps will be taken to assure that they are neutral and not beholden to the home team.

2) With a runner on base a pitcher is permitted to dis-engage from the rubber twice during each at bat. Any pickoff move — real of fake — is considered a disengagement. A third move is legal only if it results in an out on the bases. Otherwise, the pitcher will be called for a balk.

The purpose of this rule is also to speed up the game and it will certainly do that. More importantly, it will also speed up the base runner. Pitchers will have to be judicious in their use of pickoff throws and this will lower the risk for a runner if he wants to break for the next base as soon as he sees the pitcher begin his motion. He knows it’s less likely that the pitcher will be throwing to the base instead of the plate.

Hall of Fame pitcher turned broadcaster John Smoltz has estimated that most players will be able to double their 2022 stolen base output. I think that prediction is right on target. The steal will again be a significant part of major league baseball.

3) Most of the infield shifts that have become commonplace in recent years will be banned. All four infielders must have both feet planted on the infield dirt when the ball is pitched. Two of those infielders must be positioned on each side of second base.

The purpose of this rule is to bring more singles back into the game. Sluggers with a looping swing (that’s the majority of the hitters in today’s game) tend to hit hard ground balls only to their pull side. Once upon a time many of those grounders were singles but fewer of them go through the infield when there are three players on that side of the diamond. The left-handed hitter faces an additional obstacle if one of the infielders is playing in short right field and is in position to throw the hitter out at first base.

Rules makers have tried to plug potential loopholes before they evolve. It will not be legal for a fielder to be in motion when a ball is pitched. It will not be legal for a fielder to play on one side of second base against one batter and the other side against a different batter in the same inning — unless a defensive substitution is made.

However, it is perfectly legal to position an outfielder in short right field and play with what amounts to a two-man outfield. That’s been done in some spring training games, and I would expect to see that alignment deployed against some extreme all-or-nothing left-handed sluggers like Kyle Schwarber, Rowdy Tellez or Joey Gallo. I wouldn’t expect to see it used against anyone who is likely to hit a sharp line drive. Defending against that hitter essentially with only two outfielders would be very risky.

In most cases the defenses will have to be content with putting one middle infielder in the hole and the other as close to second base as the rules permit, but otherwise playing straight-up. That will lead to more singles, especially for left-handers.

During most of baseball’s history left-handed batters had a distinct advantage. The game’s greatest hitters — Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, etc. — were lefties. Only in recent years, as shifts came into vogue, did right-handers get the upper hand.

Guess what? It looks like the lefty’s edge is about to return.

4) First, second and third bases will be enlarged to 18 inches square — up from 15 inches square which has been their customary size.

The main purpose of this rule is player safety. Since fielders and runners are often racing one another to reach the same patch of real estate, the result can be that bodies collide, or feet and hands get stepped on. By increasing the size of the patch, it is hoped that the number of accidents will decrease. Minor leagues have already experimented with this rule and the impact on the game has been negligible. But …

When this rule is combined with the pickoff restrictions it further increases the base stealer’s newly obtained edge.

Now, taken as a package, what’s the verdict on these changes?

We’ll have to see but I, for one, look forward to watching games played under these rules. In recent years baseball has increasingly become a parade of strike outs and home runs and even the parade, itself, is bogged down and drawn out. Speed and fielding skills are dramatically less important than they once were. The spray hitter seems to have disappeared from the game. The hit-and-run and pitchout have both become relics and the sacrifice bunt seems poised to join them. Much of what once made the game special is found only in the history books.

I think there’s a great chance that these new rules will put more balance, variety and action back into the sport.

Of course, the managers might need time to adjust. They might be like generals, who traditionally begin every war by trying to fight the last one. They are likely to begin the 2023 season with 2022-style lineups.

That would mean filling the batting order from top to bottom with sluggers and putting the best ones at or near the top of the lineup, giving them as many swings as possible. I agree, that made perfect sense in 2022, but that isn’t the way it was done throughout most of baseball’s history.

It used to be that power filled only the middle of the order. The top of the lineup was occupied by “table-setters” — players with the ability to get on base and speed to advance. The bottom of the order was usually occupied by players whose primary contribution to the team was in the field.

I don’t expect to see that type of batting order appear anywhere in the major leagues today. I don’t think many managers are ready to play that way and even if a few want to, they probably can’t. They don’t have the personnel to do it. Rosters haven’t been constructed for swing-from-the-heels baseball and they can’t be changed overnight. But, given some time, I think they will change. It will be an evolution — not a revolution. As time passes, I think we’ll see more and more new things.

Those new things will actually be old things.

A FEW SPRING TRAINING STATISTICS: The star of the spring was Matt Olson of the Braves, who batted .426, clubbed eight homers and drove in 18 runs … The best pitcher was Yusei Kukuchi of the Blue Jays, who posted an ERA of 0.87 in 20 2/3 innings … The Yankees hit 44 homers in 33 games, but gave up 50 … Phillies DH Jake Cave batted .462 and that included three triples … The only other player with three triples was Diamondbacks rookie Corbin Carroll, who’s on base percentage was .508 … Matt Wisler of the Tigers pitched only 5 1/3 innings, but somehow committed five balks … Tanner Houck of the Red Sox finished the spring with a 9.74 ERA. He gave up 27 hits and nine of them were home runs … The Mets’ Tim Locastro was hit by six pitches … Bryce Johnson of the Giants was the best base stealer. He swiped 12 … Gabriel Arias of the Guardians grounded into six double plays and teammate Jose Ramirez bounced into five. Nevertheless, Arias batted .341 and Ramirez .340 … Dodgers DH J.D. Martinez struggled through the spring. He batted .232 and drove in only seven runs in 20 games … The White Sox drew only 74 walks while striking out 242 times.

Former Hall of Fame voter Jay Dunn has written baseball for The – for 55 years. Contact him at jaydunn8@aol.com

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