Change is upon us, my friends. This past Friday, MLB announced various rule changes that would be implemented across the big leagues in 2023. We’ll see a pitch clock in MLB, the shift will be banned, and the bases will be enlarged (to name a few). These changes are mostly under the guise of speeding the game up and making the game more exciting for the fans. As we’ve seen throughout history, from the Deadball Era, the Free Agency Era, the Moneyball Era and beyond, the game is always evolving. Savvy MLB front offices are always strategizing to situate themselves in the best position before the rest of the league deals with the learning curve of the new rules and how to win the most games with new rules. Not all rules have an immediate impact on our game and some rules have taken a few seasons to play out for us to analyze the impact. We thought offense would be up this year, but alas, overall slugging has been down this year despite the addition of the DH to the National League.
Below is a snip of the press release of MLB’s new rules:
Now that we’re familiar with the new rules, let’s take a look at how this impacts MLB players, particularly middle infielders for 2023 and beyond:
Bigger Bases: As we see above, the bases will be enlarged from 15 to 18 inches. Stolen base numbers should skyrocket, as the length between bases will be cut down ever so slightly. Many baserunners that were caught stealing in a bang-bang play, out by the skin of their teeth are now more likely to be called safe next year. There should be fewer collisions between defenders and baserunners.
Entering play Saturday, AL middle infielders Bo Bichette and Jorge Mateo have been caught stealing 8 times, Bobby Witt Jr. has been caught 6 times, and Marcus Semien 5.
NL middle infielders Dansby Swanson has been caught stealing 7 times, Christopher Morel 6, Ozzie Albies and Jazz Chisholm Jr. have been caught 5 times apiece.
I suspect the caught stealing numbers will trend down slightly. Aside from the top-end speedsters attempting more stolen bases, it’s plausible we see players overall be more aggressive on the base paths and encouraged to swipe the extra couple bags. I think we see players in their age 27-30 seasons that possess solid sprint speed numbers like Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogearts, who are players who have attempted more steals in their early 20’s compared to their later 20’s pick up the pace with regard to their steals numbers. Seems like a couple inches can go a long way!
Shift Restriction: Major leaguers will now be required to position two infielders on either side of second base, and teams will longer be able to employ the overshift we see employed against power-hitting left-handed sluggers. Hard-hitting lefty bats that come to mind that should benefit from this rule are Brandon Lowe and Corey Seager. According to Baseball Savant, Corey Seager has been shifted on over 93% of the time and the shift has cost him roughly 90 outs this season.
Even if 5-10 batted balls of Corey Seager drop in for base hits, his .244 batting average, in addition to some better batted ball luck, should be more of a .260 – .275 mark next season. Other notable middle infielders who have been shifted on frequently this year who stand to gain some precious batting average points next season include Eugenio Suarez (shifted on 82.1% of the time, .231 average) and Marcus Semien (shifted on 76.3% of the time, .242 average).
In addition to the lefty sluggers adding some batting average value, we should see the number of infield hits tick up a bit. No surprise here: Trea Turner leads MLB with 30 infield hits. A look a little further down the list and Javier Baez is at 21, Marcus Semien at 20, and Jeremy Pena at 19.
Playing shortstop has historically been a young man’s game. This may not be immediate, but over the course of the next few years, I suspect we’ll see the average shortstop age get younger. Middle infielders coming up through the minors who are deemed big for the position such as Carlos Correa, who came up as a prospect that was not expected to be a career-long shortstop and eventually move to third base may not see as many years at middle infield positions, as defensive range will likely be more heavily prioritized due to loss of the shift.
Not to be overlooked, MLB seems ready to recognize the formation of a minor league players union. This will lead to minor league players receiving necessary rights and protection under a players association, but can inevitably lead to collective bargaining issues and a worst-case strike scenario. MLB is expected to come to a resolution of the details of minor league union before the 2023 season. This can potentially shake up fantasy baseball as we currently know it, as the present minor league service time issues and prospect call-ups that have been agreed upon under the current CBA could be thrown out the window. Draft pick compensation could be further tweaked.
In a best-case scenario, we would get to see the best 40 players of a club be rostered on their big-league club every year. Some middle infield prospects whose MLB timeline could be impacted include: Anthony Volpe of the Yankees, Elly De La Cruz of the Reds, and Ezequiel Tovar of the Rockies.
Have a great week!