News came out Friday that the MLB would be implementing a couple of rule changes starting in the 2023 season. The shift would be banned, pickoff attempts would be limited, bases will be bigger, and a pitch clock would be instituted in baseball. I wanted to give it a day to fully take it in and give a chance to think about not just how this would affect baseball, but how it would affect the Seattle Mariners.
For those who haven’t seen the specifics, let’s look quickly at what exactly they are before we ponder how they will affect the Mariners.
The 2023 MLB rule changes, and how they affect the Mariners, are as follows
- Base size Change – From 15×15 to 18×18
- Shift Change – Limits of the infield, two to each side of second base
- Pitch Clock – 15 seconds when bases empty, 20 with runner on
- Clock for hitters – Must step in box within 8 seconds
- Pickoff attempts – 2 per at-bat, with third needing to succeed or else runner gets bag
Now, we have seen these rules put into play in different minor league stops all over. Game times have gone down (Around 2:30 per game), steals are up, and batting averages are up. We will never see game times get down that low in the majors because of all the commercials. However, it does seem like the clock, which will affect hitters and pitchers, should be a good improvement to help keep the game at a steadier pace.
I don’t think there are too many Mariners that take forever to throw, or that bounce in and out of the box Nomar Garciaparra style, so it shouldn’t affect their preparation or routine.
When it comes to the shift, I think this is going to help the Mariners on both offense and defense. The Mariners have a pretty good defense already, ranking as one of the best in 2022. This might push them even further away from the median rankings in 2023 as their gloves will be on display more often, in large part thanks to the wisdom and excellence of IF coach Perry Hill.
With two infielders having to stay on each side, you are going to see a lot of poor infielders forced to make plays they were able to hide from a bit due to the shift. Not a ton, but it is going to be a small factor. For the Mariners, if they can keep up this type of mental strength and level of defense, it’s going to further bolster their team. Especially if they sign someone like Trea Turner and he and JP Crawford are playing SS and 2B.
On offense, I really do think we are going to see more balls in play with the shift change. Averages will go up, and it might just make guys like Ty France even more dangerous. Good hitters should have more achievable windows to get the ball in play, and fingers crossed, maybe it will make things easier in the bigs for Kelenic.
The big one though, and I’ll talk about them at the same time, is stolen bases. The Mariners should have a lot more opportunities here between the larger bases and the limited pickoffs. Bases are increasing from 15×15 to 18×18. So, the distance from 1st to 2nd (and 2nd to 3rd) should be 4.5 inches closer. (I think, sort of hard to visualize this early in the process) Runners can try and be picked off a third time, but if they are safe, they automatically get 2nd base.
With 4-5 inches of play, and the ability to be a little more aggressive leading off, could we see guys like Julio, Moore, Swag Daddy (Sam Haggerty), or even JP start stealing more? I think so. Between the shift putting more balls in play, and it being easier to swipe bags, I see the Mariners going from 0.51 SB a game to somewhere around 1 per game. Yes, I think it could double the amount we see.
I am interested to see if Robbie Ray can continue to be Andy Pettite at picking people off. He’s already great at it, and if people are a little more aggressive, we could see him continue to pick people off at an impressive rate. He’s the League Leader with six, while the rest of the Mariners as a team only have five.
Next April is likely going to be really weird, even by baseball standards. I think we are going to see a handful of pitchers forget the pickoff rule, some SS forget the shift rule, and some general brainfart shenanigans across the league. For the Mariners, I think it’s going to make them even better, and give them a slightly easier chance to make it to the playoffs in 2023.