While some in baseball are taking a wait-and-see approach to next season’s rule changes, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo is being proactive.
The major changes coming in 2023 — a field timer, defensive turnover restrictions, larger bases and a putout attempt limit — are being implemented in an effort to speed up the pace of play, increase action and promote athletics.
It is with these new rules in mind that Lovullo prepared his outfield players this winter.
Next season, two infielders must stand on each side of second base when the pitch is cleared, and all four infielders must have both feet on the field when the pitcher is at the rubber Field players can no longer change sides of the field unless a substitution is made.
It’s not a complete elimination of the switch, but it does provide stricter rules on defensive positioning. You will no longer see a third baseman in short right field.
Offensively, he’ll be a welcome sight for left-handed hitters used to missing base hits on hard runners through the right side of the infield. Defensively, it will require more work for second basemen used to getting extra help.
Starting in the 2023 season, MLB requires that two outfielders be positioned on each side of second base and that all outfielders have both feet on the field when the pitcher is on the rubber. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Most managers and executives at the winter meetings spoke positively of the changes, although they varied on how much impact they expect the new rules to have. Specifically regarding shift restrictions, Lovullo is among the managers who anticipate increased offensive production and an emphasis on athleticism on the field.
“I’ve already told our guys to come in and prepare from the waist down if you’re an outfielder because you’re going to have to go out there and do the job on a much bigger scale,” Lovullo said.
Lovullo conveyed that message to Ketel Marte when he visited his second baseman in the Dominican Republic in November while on a trip to see the Diamondbacks’ baseball academy. He wanted Marte to focus on his agility and lateral movement to prepare for spring training.
“‘You’ve got to get strong from the waist down,’ was my message defensively,” Lovullo said. “I think in order to gain inches and do what I expect us to do defensively, we need all the outfield players, including Ketel, to be as dynamic as possible with their left and right movements to cover that ground.”
Reds manager David Bell was also among the bosses who expect the rule changes to have noticeable consequences. He views these changes positively and has enjoyed trying to figure out how to turn the new rules to his advantage, even if the ramifications may take some time to fully grasp.
“Our team will evolve over time, but as of right now, it’s, ‘How can we prepare our team the best way possible?'” Bell said. “No. 1, is really understanding the rules. It’s talking to people in player development who have experienced them, creating practice strategies around that.”
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said he’ll have to manage in a way he hadn’t thought about before, but he also echoed Bell in believing the changes will improve the game.
Teams will get a chance to see the new rules in action during spring training, a time Rockies manager Bud Black said will be crucial.
“We’re going to have a whole month of games and daily discussions about it,” Black said, “and we’re going to try to simulate some things even before games from both the pitching side and the player side to the pitch clock.”
While baseball purists may quibble about the changes, most major league managers seem open-minded. It helps that they’ve seen the changes, and the results, at the minor league level.
“You can’t keep playing the same game they played in the 40s and 50s,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He evolves. We have to evolve with him. The players will adapt.”
Beyond the defensive shift rules, these are the other three major changes coming to baseball next season.
The most noticeable difference next year will be the field timer, and the technicians are preparing all of his players for the change.
“I think we’re a little too focused on the pitchers with this issue,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I think the batsmen are just as, maybe more, tested.”
According to Baseball-Reference, the average major league playing time peaked in 2021 at three hours and 11 minutes. It decreased last year, but hasn’t dipped below three hours since 2015. Compare that to the early 2000s, when the average game length was 2.5 hours.
MLB saw a problem that needed fixing.
The field timer was implemented in the minors to experiment with the pace of play. He helped cut minor league games down to nine innings by an average of 26 minutes.
“I’m thrilled with the pitch clock,” said manager Kevin Cash, whose Tampa Bay Rays played seven regular-season games of at least four hours and 23 games of at least 3 1/2 hours last season. “Speed up the game.”
Starting next season, pitchers will have 15 seconds between pitches when the bases are empty and 20 seconds with a runner on base. Batters must be in the box with at least eight seconds left on the clock, and are called a plate appearance timeout.
Like Counsell, Black said he thinks hitters, who are used to adjusting their gloves, kicking and looking at the third-base coach, might have a harder time adjusting to the rule than launchers
Under the new rules for the upcoming MLB season, batters will only be allowed one timeout per plate appearance. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The timer will offer a little more wiggle room than the 2022 minor league version, which was 14 seconds with the bases empty and 18 seconds with a runner on base (19 seconds in Triple-A). Violations result in an automatic ball for a pitcher or an automatic strike for a batter.
“I guess in April you’re probably going to see some incidents,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “It’s inevitable. Hitters are going to strike out or someone is going to catch a ball. Some, some things are probably going to happen.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker expects those adjustments to be important for veteran pitchers, especially late in games in high-leverage situations.
“The guys we’ve brought up from the minor leagues, when they pitched, you could tell they were a product of that,” Snitker said. “And the one thing they all said was when you want to go back and regroup, you don’t have that ability with that pitch clock. And that might be something, I don’t know, that’s going to be the big adjustment for to the boys.”
It’s not anymore enough 90 feet between bases.
The sizes of first, second and third base will increase from 15 square inches to 18 square inches, reducing the distance between first and second base and between second and third base by 4.5 inches.
The goal is to encourage more aggression on the basepaths and improve player safety by providing more room to touch the bags on close plays.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t know what difference it’s going to make,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “It might make them try to be more aggressive. But I think you’re going to see pitchers get home quicker, things like that.”
In 2021, there were 2,213 stolen bases. Compare that to 10 years earlier, when there were 3,279 stolen bases.
“I don’t know what to expect from the bases,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “But I think the selection thing is going to be something that I know I have to be comfortable with and how we decide to value those picks and how we can take advantage of that.”
The pick-off rule Quatraro referred to goes hand in hand with the field clock and larger bases, which were modified in order to speed up the game and promote action.
Starting next year, a pitcher can only come off the rubber (by going down or pitching) twice per plate appearance without penalty.
“This is really going to be a game changer,” Bell said.
If a pitcher goes out for the third time and does not record an out, it is a balk. The unhook count will reset if a runner advances.
“Your delivery is fast enough at home in this new world to conserve your collection attempts,” Counsell said. “So I think that might be where some pitchers feel more uncomfortable.”
The question now is how the teams will try to gain an advantage.
Pitchers may step off the rubber and/or attempt a pitch only twice per plate appearance moving forward. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Padres president of baseball operations AJ Preller acknowledged there are undervalued players on the market who could benefit from the new rules, but neither Preller nor Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman seemed that the rule changes will affect the way they build their lists in a significant way.
Friedman, however, anticipates that the pitch clock will require some adjustments.
Last year, there were 110 qualified major league pitchers who averaged at least 20 seconds between pitches. Note that this time varies slightly (about six more seconds) from the pitch timer, which will start when the pitcher receives the catcher’s pitch and end once his delivery begins.
Still, pitchers like Jonathan Loáisiga, Giovanny Gallegos, Kenley Jansen and Kyle Finnegan, all of whom averaged more than 25 seconds between pitches last season, might find the new rules more annoying than most.
“I think there’s a big unknown about who will be able to and who won’t,” Friedman said. “For some guys, it’s going to be easy. For others, it’s not.”
Pirates manager Derek Shelton and Nationals manager Dave Martinez hope the younger teams will benefit from the new rules, both because the minor leaguers have played with them before and because they promote athleticism , speed and speed.
It remains to be seen how significant the impacts will be.
“We have to try to figure out how we can take advantage of that,” Shelton said.
Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He previously served as editor of the Dodgers’ digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @Rowan Kavner.
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