Nationals Baseball: New Rules

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

New Rules

Baseball has been trying to solve a problem over the past decade or so. The game has gotten... well boring. In the polls and focus groups and just general feeling the fandom is getting older because the game isn't appealing to younger fans.  

Now a fair accounting will note things like fandom is basically going down across the board in all sports and the few that are gaining fans aren't gaining at the rates that will make them a "national-level" sport, they are simply new and thus have easy room to get bigger. But when HUGE money is on the line, like the re-sale value of these franchises, "fair accounting" doesn't matter. You gotta force the game to grow and get young or else. 

Fans, who aren't actually really thought of in these rules after "gotta make it more entertaining", like to argue which rules are good and which are bad. They'll do it completely secure in the knowledge that they are arguing from a place of objectivity while those that argue against what they are saying just don't see what they see and are wrong. It's fun! (It sort of is! Bar arguments are fun) 

But if we do try to be objective - not judging if a rule is good or bad - but effective or not, can we come away with some truths, however small?  Let's try 


RULE CHANGE 1 : Shift limitations - Basically IFers have to be in certain spots until pitch is thrown

The micro problem : Shifting has done a number on non-homer hits, especially singles for dead pull hitters

The macro problem : Too many homers, walks and K makes baseball boring

Will it work?

Micro : Yeah at least a little. Even if fielders do the "running start" thing some expect, there will be more space for hitters to hit in the places they like to, creating at least some more singles

Macro : Not really. Very few of these guys were trying for singles, just to hit it hard and they happened to get over the ball.  It will turn a few groundball outs into hits, but won't effectively kill the 3 true outcome issue  

Unintended Consequences :  Baseball Defense becomes like football offense with men "in motion" all the time, timing the crossing of second or the grass dirt line. 

RULE CHANGE 2 : Get those at bats going - pitchers have a enforced clock to throw, hitters have an enforced clock to get in the box.

The micro problem : Pitchers and hitters are taking a lot of time in between pitches and no one likes that

The macro problem : Games are getting longer and coupled with the boredom it's bad news. 

Will it work?

Micro : Yes if you create penalties for guys to be in the box and throw it they won't waste time

Macro : Oh definitely. Look there's going to be a bit of leeway and the league average isn't that far from what forced expectations would be if pitchers take the max time (and expect them to try) but with almost 300 pitches per game a few seconds each rest time will add up.

Unintended Consequences : Some long rest pitchers will be adversely effected (Finnegan is a slow Nat) 

Expect more official requests for time. 

The pace of the game is the key and at times the game slows down for good reason. Late inning tense situations could feel rushed. 

If in the long run faster pitching favors the hitters the effect will be muted by more hits/walks. If it favors the pitching the already troubled offense could nose dive further. Like strike zone changes, you just don't know until you try! 

RULE CHANGE 3 : Too many pickoffs - basically you can try two pickoffs

The micro problem : Throwing over too much is dull and hurts baserunning

The macro problem : Baseball boring thing

Will it work? 

Micro : Likely yes, there will be fewer pick-offs with enforced penalties (duh) and runners can be more aggressive knowing that, and more so after two pick-off were made

Macro : Unclear. You are going to get an initial burst of baserunning as teams feel emboldened but the SB drop isn't about pick-offs. It's about the percentage of SB that you need to be successful on to make stealing worthwhile. We have to see where this ends up.

Unintended Consequences : with more limited pickoffs 1B don't have to hold men on, closing the 1B hole with a runner on 1B, hurting LH hitting with men on and indirectly offense in general if SB don't go up enough.

The best pitch to stop a SB is a fastball and we are already seeing a glut of young arms throwing near 100. If SB really peak there'd be even more emphasis on these types. 

RULE CHANGE 4 : Big Base -

The micro problem : Sometimes you step on the base and the other guy's foot is there. OUCH!

The macro problem : Injuries suck

Will it work?

Micro : Can't hurt

Macro : Won't hurt

Unintended Consequences : Technically intended - they hope bigger targets and a few inches reduced distance can help with SB but let's be honest - it's the pickoffs that matter there 

Can't really think of anything else. This is pretty harmless.

RULE CHANGE 5 : Position Players Pitching - maybe you can't use one until you are up by 10 or down by 8 or something.

The micro problem : Teams were declaring more and more games lost causes leading to seeing more and more position players pitching to save arm use, when norms used to only bring them out when ridiculously behind or completely necessary.

The macro problem : Teams are looking hard at optimizing their production and will break norms to do it

Will it work?

Micro : Yes. Rules are rules

Macro : No. This will stop only this. But teams will find something else to squeeze two more wins and a lot more fun out of the game. You really can't stop this line of thinking before hand only react to it.

Unintended Consequences : Teams might start designating a spot for a "garbage pitcher" / "long white flag" who pitches only in games they don't care about to save other arms. A "last arm in the pen" on steroids.

More Ohtani two/ways - offensive guys getting up to 20 IP in relief so they can qualify as a two-way player going forward

Teams down by 6 or 7 might start giving up runs to get to a point where it's ok to use a position player.


RULE CHANGE 6 : Extra Inning Man Here to Stay- man on second to start the 10th

The micro problem : Baseball games don't have a clock and thus can last forever and some people (Players, media, some fans) hate that

The macro problem : Baseball games too long thing

Will it work?

Micro : It does limit the number of extra long games, most game wrapping up by the 12th. Saving abut 70 games going past 11.

Macro : Not really, that's not even 3% of the games and if we talk about innings, which is more pertinent, we're saving like 1.5%. It's a blip. These aren't drivers of anything people are feeling about baseball

Unintended Consequences :

Messes with stats a little. 

Feels kind of bad to win a game under conditions that aren't the way the rest of the game is played. But this is a problem all sports (except for basketball) deal with.  Unless you have a lot of constant scoring just playing longer doesn't guarantee a break in ties and people don't generally like ending in ties.



Cautiously Pessimistic said...

I'm mostly content with the changes, even if they won't solve much outside the pitch clock and base size.

For limiting the shift, it's going to make such a minimal impact.

For the pickoffs, I see it likely causing more harm than good (SBs aren't going to go up all the dramatically I'd have to think).

For position players pitching, I see it as a solution in search of a problem. It happens in so few games that limiting it further won't change much. Hell, I enjoy seeing it, the game is already over usually and it's kinda fun to watch Freeman strikeout against a guy throwing <70mph

For ghost runner, God I hate it. It doesn't make that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things and it feels so unnatural. But apparently the players like it, which I get. You don't want to stay up late in game 2 of a series when you have a day game the next day. So if it helps out the players and doesn't really cause other problems, then I'll let it slide.

But I really do like the pitch clock and base size changes, they're both so logical and have almost zero negative consequences. The only risk I see is that the pitch clock won't actually reduce the length of games, but increase the number of ads MLB can squeeze into a game

Donald said...

On the no shift rule, I wonder if teams will experiment with having the 1B playing in the deep hole and having the pitcher cover first? A lot of the guys the shift is used on aren’t super speedy anyway. But I agree that it won’t change much in the macro sense. If batters had any interest in singles, they’d have learned how to poke it to the opposite field occasionally.

Carl said...

For the larger bases, I hope one effect is making it easier to hold on to the base when you slide in. Cut down on the "he stole that base clean but may have come off the bag for a nano-second" replays.

Natsochist said...

Heard from Stark’s latest article at The Athletic that the league preemptively told teams the running start will be viewed as an “attempt to circumvent the rules” and is illegal, so yay no defense in motion, at least.

Harper said...

CP - I don't like the pitch clock if only bc I like individuality in my pitchers and if some want to drag it out I'm fine with that. The problem is so many take those extra seconds now that it's added up. I think the minor league usage would breed that out but no one wants to wait for the decade or so that would take.

D - they worry too much about pitcher healht to have him running to first on every play. Going back to my last reply - I think eventually the shift would cause a lot of dead pull hitters to adapt and hit to all fields but again - no one wants to wait out 10 years of dead offense until that happens.

Carl - yeah - maybe they can be a little "poofier" or something. I bet coming off the bags was less of an issue back when they were actually more bag like.

Nats - huh. I do bet guys start out taking steps. After that it could escalate and force a rule to be implemented in writing.