There are new rules in Major League Baseball this season and they’re already having impacts on the game that should have some betting impacts, as well. We’ve already seen a Spring Training game end due to a clock expiring and stolen base attempts should be on the rise this season, while the length of games is going to decrease. We should also see some more offense now that the ‘defensive shift’ is a thing of the past.
Here are the rule change details and their potential impacts.
1. Pitch Timer
- 15 seconds with bases empty; 20 seconds with runners on base. Ball and strike penalties are assessed for violations
- Hitter gets one timeout per appearance and must be in the batter’s box with eight seconds remaining on the clock
- Pitchers get two disengagements per batter. A disengagement is a pickoff attempt or step off. Violations result in a balk
The Padres’ Manny Machado was called for a batter’s box violation before his first at-bat in a Spring Training game. Machado wasn’t in the box in time and started his at bat with an 0-1 count as a result. “I might be down 0-1 a lot this year,” he said after the game.
The Braves and Red Sox had a spring game end in a tie due to a “clock off” when Sox pitcher Robert Kwiatkowski worked a full count to batter Cal Conley, who then failed to get into the box before the clock expired, resulting in a strike three penalty to end the game in a tie.
Spring games have roughly been 22 minutes shorter this year with the average time down to 2:39 from 3:01 a year ago. As of March 1 and through 65 games there have been 113 violations - 85 on pitchers and 28 on hitters. The clock is also going to dictate the pace of the game as opposed to the hitters and pitchers being in control of it. That’s going to make both sets of players a little more uncomfortable and could lead to more strikeouts and walks.
How these rules impact offense and who wins remains to be seen but one thing is for sure - games are going to be moving at a faster pace this season.
Last season’s slowest pitchers with the bases empty were: Jake Diekman, Craig Kimbrel, Camlo Doval, Taylor Rogers, Jose’ Suarez, Erasmo Ramirez, Shohei Ohtani, Luis Garcia, Adam Ottavino and Michael Kopech. Other notable slow pitchers include Corbin Burnes, Yu Darvish, Alek Manoah, Lucas Giolito, Blake Snell and Max Fried. How the rules change affects these guys over the long haul remains to be seen but they’re clearly going to be forced to work at a faster pace this season. See Matt Snyder’s column at CBS for all the details.
2. Defensive Shift Restrictions
- Two infielders must be positioned on either side of second base when a pitch is released
- All four infielders must have both feet within the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber
- Automatic balls will be called for violations
The days of seeing a shortstop at second base and the second baseman in right field, or vice versa, are over. Pull hitters should gain an advantage and there should be more holes for batters to find, which should increase offense and batting averages.
Right-handed hitters Eugenio Suarez, Byron Buxton, Luke Voit, Salvador Perez and Marcus Simien faced a shift between 75 and 81 percent of their at bats last season. Lefties Carlos Santana, Cal Raleigh, Jose’ Ramirez, Rougned Odor and Kole Calhoun faced a shift between 93 and 98 percent of their at bats last year. So even guys who were being shifted against 50 percent or less are going to see a boost, as well. But it’s particularly helpful to the dead-pull power hitters, which will result in more offense this season.
Here is a list of the Top 10 players who made the most outs into the shift last season: Corey Seager, Josh Naylor, Rowdy Tellez, Freddie Freeman, Matt Olson, Charlie Blackmon, Kyle Tucker, Shohei Ohtani, Max Kepler and Yordan Alvarez. Between them they made 850 outs into the shift last season. Removing the shift should have a big impact on batting averages and team offense, both of which will now improve. All of these guys should see a boost to their batting average and on-base percentage this season. See Matt Snyder’s column at CBS for more details.
3. Bigger Bases
- First, second and third base increased from 15 square inches to 18 square inches
- Distance from home to first and third to home decreased by three inches
- Distance from first to second base and second base to third base decreased by 4.5 inches
Baseball is a game of inches so those reduced distances, along with the step-off rules should lead to an increase in both stolen bases and attempts this season. It also promotes player safety and creates more offense, while potentially also bringing SBs back from the dead. There hasn’t been a 50-steal player since Dee Gordon had 60 back in 2017. Bigger bases also give players more bag to grab onto when sliding, making it tougher for fielders to apply tags.
Injuries could decrease with more bag for first basemen and runners to share, hopefully eliminating some sprained ankles and spikings.
The Top 10 in steals from last season were Jon Berti (41), Jorge Mateo (35), Cedric Mullins (34), Tommy Edman (32), Randy Arozarena (32), Bobby Witt Jr. (30), Ronald Acuna (29), Trea Turner (28), Kyle Tucker (26) and Julio Rodriguez (26).
The new bases could put Acuna in range for a 30-30 season (homers and steals) if he can get his bat working again. Acuna, who is being taken in the Top 5 in fantasy drafts, hit just 15 homers last season but should get close to 30 this year if he can stay healthy. It remains to be seen if stolen base attempts will jump drastically this season but you have to think the really good ones will feel more comfortable making more attempts. And the fact that pitchers can't continuously throw to first should make speedsters feel more comfortable getting big leads, which should lead to more attempts and successful steals.
Faster games, more offense and stolen bases, and less batting glove restrapping and general lackadaisical behavior outside of the box should be a welcomed sight in MLB. And any time I can get more steals on my fantasy teams, I’ll take it. If nothing else, it should be fun watching players trying to find loopholes in the new rules and adapting to them after spending a lifetime perfecting their routines and craft. In fact, I’m going to go watch a Spring Training game right now.
MLB Stolen Bases Leader: Ronald Acuña +600
MLB Hits Leader: Freddy Freeman +1300
MLB Home Runs Leader: Pete Alonzo +850