The first look at MLB’s new rules reveals that baseball won’t be the same

WEST PALM BEACH, FL. — The new rules are sure to create all kinds of weirdness and unforeseen problems at MLB games this year.

But maybe we can take out the irony award on the first day of the Grapefruit League. When asked what concerns him most about all of this changing, Astros manager Dusty Baker pointed out that there is less time with a pitch clock to give signs and thus the potential elimination of dummy signs to disguise what is being called from the bench. as a pitchout on defense or a hit and run on offense.

He said he’s “concerned” about not being able to camouflage his strategy aptly from the dugout, adding, “You always know people steal signs, and then there’s the sensitive area: Are you cheating or is it part of the game? ”

Baker is the Astros’ manager because his predecessor, AJ Hines, was fired as part of the most egregious plate-stealing case in history. So you know…

Welcome to the new world of baseball with, among other things, a pitch clock (15 seconds to deliver a pitch with nobody on base and 20 seconds with a runner), the elimination of extreme shifts, longer bases, and limits on strikeouts with mound and the throws. MLB’s hope is that in concert these rules speed up the tempo, get the ball in play more often and create more on-base action.

New World Order

The exhibition season kicked off Friday in Arizona and Saturday in Florida, and we should also think of it as the opening workshops as teams experiment to figure out how best to play in the tight new confines — and how to find advantages when possible. To explain this, Mets manager Buck Showalter closed off practice sessions from fans, media and other prying eyes to work out strategies to deal with or capitalize on the new rules.

tar clock
A pitch clock will be used this season to speed up the game.

To that end, when told what Baker had said about plagiarism, Showalter said, “There are so many things that we’re afraid to copy from high schools or colleges because, ‘Oh, they’re amateurs and we’re professionals.’ There are things they do better.”

If I were to suspect along with the Mets’ advantage-seeking manager, I’d bet (among other things) that Showalter plays using the kind of flashing symbol cards on the college football sidelines to move games quickly into a conversation — there are Simultaneously Active Signs and dummies so that the opponent cannot easily decipher what is being played.

Showalter said he wouldn’t reveal anything new during the exhibition games, which for the Mets began with two contests Saturday — the first under the new rules at The Ballpark of Palm Beaches against the defending champs in Baker. What must be recognized is that in the starting lineups the Astros had regular first baseman Jose Abreu, and so did the Mets, although catcher Omar Narvaez was the designated player.

So most of those playing were in the minors recently and had previously played with most if not all of these rules. Minor leaguers, and especially coaches, are all being asked more than normal this time of year about their experiences with the new ordinances. So, everyone is probably more familiar with what happened in the Astros’ 4-2 win, which came in 2:33.

What could have been more than guaranteed was that this game would have gone an extra hour last year: 16 pitchers used, tons of deep counts, six walks, 21 hits, two hits by pitches and 18 at-bats with runners in scoring position. position.

Most notable, if they weren’t familiar with it, was the removal of the ring. There was almost no wandering as a countdown clock behind the plate and in right field was a character in the game. Pitchers mostly stayed on or near the rubber and always within the pitching circle. Hitters, who must be placed in the batter’s box with less than eight seconds left on the clock, mostly stayed inside the batter’s box chalked or relatively attached — and the wrangling with the batter’s gloves was not as evident . In fact, when it comes to who looked more volatile, we might have the wrong name for the pitch clock.

Referees will wear a buzzer that alerts them when the pitch clock has run out.
Referees will wear a buzzer that alerts them when the pitch clock has run out.

As Mets manager Jeremy Hefner said, “I think it’s the hitter’s clock because pitchers can always adjust because we’re the ones who start the action. The hitter must always react to us. So if now there is a time constraint in which the batsman has to operate and we can control that constraint, that is to our advantage.”

Heffner said the pitchers who will struggle with it, mostly, are those who haven’t worked on their conditioning because “we have to throw more pitches, more often.”

A learning curve

The halves that were 1-2-3 were a blur. When runners were on base, the extra five seconds pitchers had to surrender on each pitch was noticeable as they used the extra time to try to shut down the run game. However, it was much faster than previously in the majors with runners on base. A clock violation results in either a ball being called (pitcher’s violation) or a strike (hitter’s violation) — and there were no violations in this game for either of the new rules.

Under the new rules, extreme changes were gone. But no displacements. There should be two players on each side of second base now, and all players should be on the infield dirt as the pitcher begins his delivery. So, for example, gone is one infielder in short right field and three infielders to the right of second base for the lefty pullers. However, for most lefties, the third baseman was pulled toward the shortstop and the shortstop was as high up the middle as possible without fouling.

The Mets are placed on the field under new major league rules on February 25th.
The Mets are placed on the field under new major league rules on February 25th.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

There are two imaginary lines drawn from the second base end to the outfield grass to create a triangle that the center fielders may not cross before the pitch. don’t go Showalter believes that, yes, there will be more pull strikes between first and second that in the past have been lost because of a misplaced player in right field inside the inning. But Showalter believes a second baseman will continue to play in the dirt toward that hole, but because the shortstop can’t get past the bag before the pitch, there will be more hits between where the second baseman is. and the second base bag than in recent years.

Additionally, Showalter expects “5-plus players” in infields (which is legit), especially in late-game situations — but that runs the risk of only having two outfielders.

If there were any instances Saturday where there were runaways, it came with middle infielders (especially the second baseman) either starting on the grass and moving to the dirt slowly or not coming off the grass at all. . Showalter wasn’t sure before the game if the refs could call the foul or if it should be challenged by the coach.

The Commissioner’s Office told me an umpire could call it, but after the game when I spoke with crew chief Lance Barksdale, he was under the impression he couldn’t call it. He then consulted with his superiors and came back to tell me that he could, indeed, call a violation in this situation.

“We’re learning, too,” said Barksdale, who has umpired in the majors for more than two decades.

Note that if the ball is put in play and a foul is called, then the offense has the option to accept the result (which it would if there was a strike) or take the called ball.

Get comfortable

There were four stolen bases in the first five innings – two against the Mets’ lone veteran pitcher, Adam Ottavino. The long righty is notoriously bad at holding on to runners and told me, “I’m hoping to fall into some traps just to get some comfort [with the new rules].”

The mounts are now 18 inches instead of 15, reducing the distance from bag to bag. Additionally, pitchers can only release the bunt twice in any plate appearance with runners on – think of it as a combination of two for pickoffs, step-offs, timeouts. If the runner does not field the runner on the third try, the runner is automatically advanced to the next base. One element to counter that, some executives told me, is that they expect pitchouts — which have fallen out of favor in recent years — to increase dramatically this year.

MLB's new, larger bases compared to what the league used last year.
MLB’s new, larger bases compared to what the league used last year.

However, as Ottavino noted, “It probably wouldn’t be in my best interest to have a zero WHIP until the spring because it’s better to have baserunners now and deal with the trouble here and get it out of the way instead of dealing with it. for the first time in the regular season.”

Ottavino actually had first and third and one out – and got out of it.

Overall, the expectation is that the best players in the world are the best because they adapt so well, including to the new rules. They’ll have six spring weeks to adjust, and the general feeling was that a few weeks into the season would put all the new rules on the backburner.

To get there, I asked Showalter if he’d rather refs work with players and coaches through the spring talking with them to avoid violations or not. Showalter thought tough love in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues would be better to get everyone up to speed.

“Down here,” he said, “I’d like to see them whistle at him.”