MLB Rules Changes: Cubs Reactions, Shifts Still Exist, Planning Ahead, More

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MLB Rules Changes: Cubs Reactions, Shifts Still Exist, Planning Ahead, More

Chicago Cubs

I had some additional items to share and discuss related to the big rules changes coming to Major League Baseball next year: a pitch clock, pick-off limits, shift restrictions, and bigger bases.

That includes some initial reactions from Cubs players, including union rep Ian Happ:

Ultimately, Happ believes players will adjust in time, and it sounds like he sees the potential benefit in limiting those extreme shifts (Sun-Times): “I think it’ll be a more appealing game visually. You’re going to have guys like [Kyle] Schwarber and [Anthony] Rizzo smash the ball at the right side at 115 mph. Those are going to be hits, and those should be hits.”

A reminder on that front: although the kinds of shifts where you had three players on one side of second base, including a guy deep into the outfield grass, are going away, it’s not as if ALL SHIFTING is going away. Since MLB did not adopt the pie slice permutation of anti-shift rules (yet), you’re still going to see plenty of this:

That remains super important to keep in mind: shifting, as a concept, has not been eliminated. You will still see tons of shifting! The limits being implemented are much more at the margins than any Terrified Tweets might suggest.

That reminds me. I have what might wind up being a deeply stupid question: Now knowing that shift limits are coming next year, wouldn’t it be smart for teams that are out of the race to start practicing within the new shift rules, and playing that way in games? Why not start getting used to the new reality ahead, if it’s not going to cost you any games that matter? I suppose I could imagine some responses (you still want to do as well as possible for your teammate pitchers right now, for example), but it seems like a competitive advantage to get to work on it sooner rather than later.

Some of the data analysis on how shift limits could impact BABIP:

I find those kinds of analyses interesting, but I also suspect they’re incomplete. These analyses presume there are no behavior changes by hitters (or pitchers) in response to the rules. But BABIP isn’t the only (or even primary?) issue at stake.

In other words, I’m certain MLB is aiming to generate some longer-term behavioral changes: specifically, less selling out for extreme pull-side power in two-strike counts, since the calculus on whether it’s “worth” just trying to put the ball in play, rather than still trying to ding a dinger, will have changed.

We know that players cannot just flip a switch and change the directionality of their contact, which is what always made the “just hit it the other way!” stuff silly. But we also know that players CAN impact their level of contact at the margins, if their focus in certain counts is simply putting the ball in play (which will be greater rewarded in a shift-limited system). More than that, we’re talking about changes over a long horizon, where players will be selected and developed FOR the new system, not just guys who are trying to make tweaks year to year.

I’m not sure why no one seems to be talking about the potential reduction in strikeouts tied to the shift limits. I don’t think I’m crazy that it’s one of the factors, at least in some small way.

As for the pitch clock, Mark Leiter Jr. suggested to the Sun-Times he was definitely not a fan, particularly the limit of two disengagements with the rubber, calling it a “colossal mistake.” Setting aside the potential positive impact on stolen base attempts (yes, please), I’m not sure how you actually have a pitch clock WITHOUT a rule on how many pick-off attempts/disengagements with the rubber a pitcher can have. Otherwise, the clock does nothing: the pitcher can just keep stepping off to reset the clock.

Nobody seems to have any issue with the larger bases, by the way. It’s just a good and safe and smart idea.

For more reading on the rules changes, see a good take over at FanGraphs:

The money paragraph comes at the close: “This is what functioning sports leagues do: When the competitive incentives of the rules make the game less entertaining, they change the rules to correct the problem. That’s how the NBA got a shot clock, why FIFA implemented the backpass rule, and the NHL took out the redline. Similar changes for baseball were long overdue; if these rules are half as impactful as they look on paper, 2023 will be a watershed season.”

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.