Inside Buck Showalter’s Mets plan to tackle MLB rule changes

Buck Showalter prepares a 20-question quiz for his players when they assemble as a full team for the first time.

Of course it is.

There are new rules coming to the bigs — fundamental changes — and the Mets manager wants to know how much his players know about what’s going on. Plus, Showalter suspects he won’t get many A-plus grades. So the results will make it easier for him to justify to his players why he spends so much time drilling and re-drilling in the midst of arguably the most important spring training for conditioning purposes in MLB history.

So, for example, Showalter has already requested multiple pitch clocks — sorry, in the Orwellian world of MLB: pitch timers — placed at Clover Park, and he plans to have all his pitchers even throw their sessions with a clock to make sure. that they are practicing for the new rules: a pitch cycled in 15 seconds with no one on base and 20 seconds with base runners.

“I don’t want it to be like we’re reinventing the wheel,” Showalter said. “We’d better all prepare for what’s coming. Because the learning curve will be very small in the spring.”

Ah, the brevity. As if the degree of difficulty of adjusting to a pitch clock, the new pickoff rules, and the elimination of extreme offsets — and the variations on each — weren’t enough. The World Baseball Classic is also coming up this spring, which means many of the best players will be gone for chunks of time to train first and then play for the United States or the Dominican Republic or Venezuela or one of the 20 participating teams .

Buck Showalter is working with the Mets during 2022 spring training.
Corey Shipkin

Wait, it gets better. The tournament is held under the old rules. So the players will arrive at camp with a decree a few days earlier than the actual reporting dates to start working with the new rules. Many of these players will then leave camp to play by the old rules. And if you play for one of the countries that reaches the March 21 final in Miami, you’ll return to your team about a week before the start of the regular season on March 30.

Finally—because you knew there would be more—there won’t be equal disruption across the landscape. The Astros, Dodgers and Mets, in particular, are expected to have either many of their players or many of their best players in the WBC.

It is fluid. The rosters aren’t locked in yet, but the Mets could lose two outfielders in Starling Marte (Dominican) and Brandon Nimmo (Italy), three relievers in Edwin Diaz (Puerto Rico) plus Adam Ottavino and Brooks Raley (both USA), a catcher in Omar Narvaez (Venezuela) and two basemen in Carlos Carrasco (Venezuela) and Jose Quintana (Colombia). It could also include the prospect pool, including Mark Vientos (Nicaragua) and starter Calvin Ziegler (Canada).

What could be most concerning for the Mets is dealing with the possible departure of their starting outfield in the spring – Pete Alonso (USA), Jeff McNeil (USA), Francisco Lindor (Puerto Rico) and Eduardo Escobar (Venezuela). At the moment the new rules will include shift restrictions, notably that two players must be positioned on each side of the second base bag and all players must have both feet on the infield dirt.

The maximum any organization can have is 15 players, and there is some power to exclude a player returning from injury, such as Marte. But the Mets will have more players and more key players to leave than any organization — by comparison the Yankees aren’t expected to leave, say, Aaron Judge or Gerrit Cole, but are looking at losing a few players like Nestor. Cortes and Kyle Higashioka (both for the USA), among others.

“It sucks, but what are you going to do,” Showalter said. “Once the season starts, they’re not going to wait for you to catch up. It’s a competitive advantage if you know what you’re doing. These guys [his players]they won’t like me until late spring [because of how much the new rules will be stressed].”

Mets manager Buck Showalter
Robert Sabo

Showalter plans to maximize the time he has with his players to deal with the elimination of pitching. To work on pitchers who give the ball away faster and for hitters, as a rule now, to be ready with at least eight seconds left on the clock — “It’s going to affect the hitters more than the pitchers, mark my word,” said Showalter. Max Scherzer, for example, said on “The Show with Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman” podcast that he plans to use the pitch clock to his advantage, disrupting batters by changing how long he stays in the set or changing how long he takes to to be delivered. every field.

Showalter plans to dedicate a half-infield to, among other things, making sure his players are comfortable with longer bases and less disengagement from the rubber, for example, throwing to first to keep a runner close. Showalter plans to play some Mets vs. Mets practice games before exhibition games even begin to highlight the new rules. and all spring training games will be played under the new rules — remember this is a learning period for the umpires, too.

These are seismic changes designed to speed up the pace of action and shorten the length of games while – among other things – encouraging more boldness on the bases.

Every club has and will continue to go to school not only to familiarize players and staff with the rules, but also to find loopholes to exploit. For example, a team cannot move a player from the dirt to short right field. But against a left fielder like, say, Joey Gallo, are teams going to move, say, the left fielder to that shifted position and essentially give up a left fielder?

MLB prepared for something similar to this when the replay was expanded in 2014, and there was a lot of fuss about its development and impact in the early weeks and months before the furor subsided with comfort/familiarity. Because this covers literally every pitch, this should be more disruptive and explosive, especially the first time a game is decided by, say, a ball that is rated for a pitcher who works too slowly and leads to the winning run.

Adam Ottavino
Robert Sabo

Instead, MLB says 46 percent of the current 40-man roster players have at least first-hand experience with the pitch clock because all of those rules have been tentatively implemented in the minors in recent years. Additionally, one reason great champions are great champions is how adaptable they are. Ottavino, for example, told me last month that he bought a $30 timer on Amazon and set it up in the gym he built in Harlem and uses it to prepare. Most players probably already do something similar.

“It was just obviously a no-brainer,” Ottavino said. “We’re going to play with the new rules so you get used to them, so you’re as prepared as possible — and try to catch up. If I just show up in the spring and say, “I’ll figure it out,” now that can be awkward. And you know, there are other things to sort out at that time of year. So I’d rather get ahead of it now. If I can figure it out now, it will be a good investment for about $30.”

Plus, he’s sure to have a Buck ready to put in the necessary time to get used to the new rules with the Mets.