23 for ’23: How will the new MLB rules affect the Cubs?
Between position battles, roster additions and new rules, there are plenty of questions surrounding the 2023 Cubs. We attempt to provide answers for 23 of the most intriguing questions heading into the season.
Baseball will look rather different in 2023 than any other season.
That’s due to the new rule changes across MLB that includes a pitch clock, bigger bases, no shifting and a limit on pickoff attempts by pitchers.
The results have been fast and furious so far this spring as the combination of new rules have led to games ending roughly 30 minutes faster than last year.
So when you’re watching Cubs games this year, the speed of the game will stand out.
The league may make some tweaks to rules, however, as it was reported this week.
But for now, all we can go on is the rules we’ve seen in play so far this spring. How will the Cubs be affected by these new rules in the regular season?
Let’s start with the biggest, most in-your-face change to the game. Each pitch is now scrutinized and players are forced to be ready to go in a timely manner.
That took a bit of an adjustment for the Cubs, but more than a month of Spring Training games will help prepare them for the regular season — when every pitch counts.
The Cubs also helped provide a soft landing for their players by incorporating the pitch clock into live BPs and regular bullpens even before Cactus League games began.
“We gotta find our new cadence to how we do things,” David Ross said early in camp. “I think athletes will adjust really fast. Baseball players will adjust really fast, but seeing it, feeling it, being a part of it will help that.”
Some Cubs pitchers have admitted the adjustment was more stark than they thought it would be. Drew Smyly, a 10-year veteran, was surprised by how rushed he felt in his first start and suggested the need for a “default pitch” if the pitch clock is running down so Cubs catchers know what’s coming.
Then there’s the other end — where Cubs pitchers can utilize the clock to their advantage.
Marcus Stroman already has plenty of ideas.
“Yeah I got some things coming,” Stroman said after his first Cactus League start. “I’m not gonna show any of them. But yeah, I’m definitely gonna manipulate it and use it to my favor for sure.
“If they’re gonna make us rush, I’m gonna find a way to kinda be me out there, no matter what.”
Bigger bases and pitcher disengagements
MLB increased the size of the bases by a matter of only 3 inches overall but it should help protect players more by avoiding collisions around the bag and it means baserunners — and potential base stealers — have a slightly smaller distance to cover (4.5 inches between first and second and also second and third base).
Pitchers also have a limit on how many times they can disengage from the rubber and attempt pickoffs.
“First, I think it’s hilarious that it’s called disengagements now,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “We had to change the whole name of it. It’s just a step off or a pick off.”
OK, now that we got that out of the way, how will that affect the Cubs this year?
“The pickoff and step off is one where I feel like there’s gonna be a lot of adjustments to make,” Gomes said. “I feel like there’s probably tons of ways to take advantage of leaving early or whatever it is. Maybe [the bigger bases] will play a part with the stealing and throwing guys out but I feel like that’s just gonna be more fun into it for us.”
Like Gomes said, there are a multitude of different ways that baserunners could potentially take advantage of the new rules. One Cubs player said he might try to push the envelope at second base more and simply take off for third when he sees the pitch clock winding down to 0, knowing the pitcher has to deliver to home.
Stolen bases are expected to rise around the game, though it’s still unclear whether the bump will be minor or significant.
Either way, the Cubs will be in as good of a position as any team in baseball after spending much of 2022 testing the limits on the basepaths already.
Last season, the Cubs didn’t have a roster packed with base stealers. There was some athleticism among the group but they weren’t exactly the 2014-15 Royals — teams that were predicated on speed.
The first month of 2022 showed that, as the Cubs tied for second-to-last in MLB with only 4 stolen bases. But they started pushing the envelope more in May, leading the league with 30 stolen bases.
From May 1 on, the Cubs tallied the 4th-most swipes in baseball as they tried to find any way they could to manufacture offense with a lineup that didn’t boast a bunch of sluggers.
“I think we’re willing to try new stuff with the rules and we’re gonna push the envelope,” Ross said. “I think we’ve definitely thrown a lot of things against the wall and R&D has some input on what are the tendencies, where do we need to get to to be successful? There’s been a lot of analyzing how we ran the bases last year and where we helped ourselves win more ballgames in the baserunning department.”
Ross and the Cubs big-league coaching staff has also leaned a lot on the minor league coaches and instructors — people who dealt with these rule changes last year. How did some Triple-A teams try to circumvent the rules and what kind of stuff did they do to put pressure on pitchers? Ross was asking all of that early in camp.
He also has had an opportunity to see it for himself live throughout more than a month of game action. The Cubs haven’t run a ton this camp (17 stolen bases through Tuesday’s game) but there’s also nothing to gain from showing their hand in exhibition games.
It will be very interesting to see how teams run the bases once the regular season hits.
No longer will we see an infielder in shallow right field with a left-handed hitter at the plate. Teams now have to keep two infielders on both sides of second base and all infielders must have their feet on the infield dirt.
Teams will still find ways to semi-shift by moving the shortstop up the middle as close to the second base bag as they can get. That will still take away some possible hits but the new limitations in place will add at least a little more offense into the game.
“I certainly think there will be more room for hits out there,” veteran first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “Any time you change something to promote hitting, I’m all about it. Hopefully it will be a good thing and I think the left-handed hitters will definitely benefit from it.”
The Cubs are also set up about as well as any team in baseball to defend with the new shift limitations in place. By signing Dansby Swanson, he pairs with Nico Hoerner to provide arguably the best defensive middle infield in the game.
The speed of the game is noticeable but that’s a good thing by just about everybody’s assessment. And the increased potential for stolen bases coupled with the lack of shifting places more of a premium on the top athletes showing their prowess on the baseball diamond.
“What I love about it the new rules is it’s just picked up the pace and there’s a lot less thinking, a lot more competing,” Ross said. “I think that’s good for our game.”
Early in spring, we saw a bunch of clock violations, including one game ending on a clock violation by Atlanta Braves hitter Cal Conley with the bases loaded.
While that specific situation is exceedingly rare, what would happen if it’s a late-season game with major playoff implications and a clock violation weighs heavily on the outcome?
“That’s a phenomenal question and I can’t wait to really get to experience that,” Gomes said. “I feel like Wrigley brings the big-game environment every time so once we get going in Chicago, we’re gonna start seeing there’s gonna be some big games late in the 7th inning or 8th inning, giving up a ball, giving up a strike or a balk or whatever it is. It’s gonna mean a lot. We’re gonna have to figure that out but I can’t wait to see what that’s gonna look like.”
Ultimately, the Cubs know it’s designed to put a better product on the field for the fans.
“I’m in favor of all these things,” Jed Hoyer said. “The more we can put action into the game, the more people are running, the quicker pace it is, the better. No one wants to go to a 3-hour, 45-minute game and have that be a common occurrence.”
23 for ’23 series
What will the Cubs’ new era at catcher look like?
What is the Cubs’ plan at third base?
Who steps up in the wake of the Seiya Suzuki injury?
What role will Christopher Morel have on the 2023 Cubs?
Who will win the Cubs’ 5th starter spot?
Where does Nick Madrigal fit on the roster?
Who will close for the Cubs?
What kind of impact will Dansby Swanson have in his first season in Chicago?
What is the plan for Matt Mervis?
Who are some under-the-radar players that could make the Opening Day roster?
What will Trey Mancini and Eric Hosmer bring to this team?
Which young Cubs pitchers will take the next step this season?
What can we expect from Kyle Hendricks when he returns this season?
What does the Opening Day bullpen look like?
Will the Cubs’ pitching staff pick up where it left off?
What will the Opening Day lineup look like?
After career years with Cubs, what’s next for Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner?
Will Cody Bellinger return to his MVP-caliber form?
How will the Cubs balance development of young players with contending for NL Central crown?
Which Cubs players could be primed for a breakout this season?