How Cubs are digesting new MLB rule changes
Friday morning brought news that some major rule changes were coming to Major League Baseball in 2023.
But for Nico Hoerner, he’s not too worried about the effects of those rules.
“I think it’s the kinda thing that feels like a huge deal right now,” Hoerner said, “and we’ll be a couple of months into the season next year and be very used to it and kinda back to baseball as normal.”
Major League Baseball’s competition committee voted to implement rule changes that institute a pitch clock, limiting how many times a pitcher can disengage from the rubber, banning the shift and bigger bases.
“Players will adapt,” said Ian Happ, the Cubs’ Players Association representative. “We’ve adapted to rules changes since the start of the game, so we’ll find a way.”
The voting — aside from the bigger bases — wasn’t unanimous. The players had some concerns with the disengagement from the rubber and some of nuances that go into the banning of the shift.
Here’s how the Cubs reacted to the new rules:
The days of three infielders on the right side against a left-handed pull hitter will be over. There will now have to be two infielders on either side of second base and all infielders must be on the dirt before the pitch is thrown. If a team is in violation, the hitting team can decide to accept the penalty, which would add a ball to the hitters count or decline it, in which case the play would stand.
It’s the starting positioning of fielders that has caused some uneasiness for players.
“There were guys that, especially infielders, second basemen, shortstops that [felt], ‘Hey man, if I know this guy’s really slow and I want two or three feet [into the outfield grass], I wanna feel like I can do that,’” Happ said. “It was our job to be able to just voice those opinions of players and we didn’t feel like the rule got to a place where we could represent all the players fairly by voting yes.”
The banning of the shift should highlight some of the natural athleticism of players. There won’t always be a defender where a hitter tends to hit it, so infielders will have to cover more ground and showcase their range.
“The shift I think puts value on guys that are good at making the routine play, but maybe not have to cover as much ground,” Hoerner said. “[There’s] gonna be definitely tough plays in the hole that you maybe otherwise would be just at the guy in the shift. It’s just another aspect.”
For hitters, especially lefties, the banning of the shift should help some players raise their batting average. Happ pointed to former teammates Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber who “smash the ball to the right side 115 mph” and will be rewarded for it now.
“Those should be hits,” Happ said.
It’s all a balance.
“There’s gonna be disadvantages, some guys that are really good, like Nico is really good in the shifts. He’s not gonna be able to do it anymore,” Happ said. “You’re gonna have to have more athletic fielders up the middle. You can’t just put a second baseman that can’t move and then let your shortstop do all the work. There’s gonna be real changes that I think are better for viewing the game.”
Pitch Clock and Disengagement
With bases empty, pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch and 20 seconds with a runner on base. If they haven’t begun their motions, they’ll be charged with a ball. Hitters will have to be in the batter’s box with eight seconds left, or else they’ll be charged a strike.
“From everything I’ve heard, there’s been a great increase in how the game is played, the contact, the athleticism, the pace of the game — I haven’t heard one negative thing about it from the things I’ve heard about the pitch clock,” David Ross said. “Looking forward to that being implemented.”
In addition, pitchers are allowed two disengagements — pickoffs, fake pickoffs or stepping off the rubber — per plate appearances. On the third step-off, they will be charged with a balk. If the bases are empty, the hitter will get a ball.
“Pitchers had concerns about only having two pickoffs to hold runners and what that meant from a data and information perspective at the big-league level,” Happ said.
Hitters can only call time once per plate appearance. That’s something that will be tough for hitters to adjust to, especially in cold weather situations.
“We play at Wrigley Field in April. It’s brutal. It’s cold. It’s windy,” Happ said. “If I can’t see, and I call time once, am I not able to call time later in the at-bat when the wind’s blowing 20 mph in my face? Am I not able to call time when I hit a foul ball and my hands feel like they’re gonna fall off? There’s real things in there.”
The sizes of bases are increasing, roughly 4.5 inches next season. This was done moreso for player safety, but it should encourage aggressiveness on the basepaths, too.
“I firmly believe — the data doesn’t really show the bigger bases impacts base stealing, but I think at this level it well. You have so many bang-bang plays and we have replay at this level, so I do think that those inches are gonna matter,” Happ said. “I think that there will be enough data at this level, there’s gonna be more ability to steal bases.
That’s one rule that everyone was on board with.
“Guys that have come up from Triple-A and come to the big-league bases have been amazed with how small they are [in the majors],” Happ said. “We’ve talked about there’s some work to do on just the physical base that it’s similar to this as possible, but that was a consensus one.”
Overall, the Cubs understand that while these rules may seem like bigger adjustments now, it won’t be long before everybody is used to it as a new way of life.
“The shift was weird when we first saw it; now we’re used to it,” Ross said. “I came up being able to run over the catcher. That’s still weird. You still see controversy over that night in and night out on TV and what that rule kinda states. I think there’s an adjustment period for all of it but players do a really nice job of adjusting to the new stuff.
“We’ll have to find strategies within [the rules] and think through how teams might take advantage of that and how we might take advantage of that and be ready to adjust. There’s really good athletes out there and really good competitors and they’ll find a way to compete and figure out a way to handle every rule that’s in place.”