When the 2023 MLB season gets underway, there will be a number of new rules that will be in place, and all teams are going to have to get acquainted with them in a hurry. In addition to the new pitch clock, there will be restrictions on the defensive shift, which has become near-ubiquitous over the last few years. The league has also made an attempt to jumpstart the running game with bigger bases and limited pickoff attempts.
It is going to be something that the Atlanta Braves and the other 29 teams will be trying to get a handle on during the spring. Several players were asked about the rule changes recently, and most sounded supportive, although there is still some confusion about all of the details.
Of all of the rule changes, the pitch clock might be the most jarring, at least during the early part of the season. It drew rave reviews from people who saw the implementation in the minors, but it is going to be a change of pace for some veteran pitchers with ingrained routines. Helping the pitching staff navigate the pitch clock is something that is on the minds of Braves catchers Travis d’Arnaud and Sean Murphy.
“It’s new for me. It’s new for everybody. I think in spring we will kind of experiment and talk and figure out what’s best for each individual, moreso than as a collective group,” d’Arnaud said of the pitch clock.
“There’s a lot of little things that not all of us are exactly sure about. I know in the minors it worked well and sped up the games which isn’t a bad thing, I would say,” d’Arnaud added. “Sometimes three-and-a-half-hour games can be long. At the same time, it’ll be interesting when it’s the seventh, eighth and ninth, and you’re only up by one and there’s a runner on third and you have to worry about being fast, or quick, whatever the term is.”
While speeding up a pitcher’s tempo is going to be key, the pitch clock will add even more pressure for the battery to be in sync on things like signs and pitch sequencing.
“That’s going to be important. Being on the same page and being able to work quickly and efficiently with the pitcher,” Murphy added. “Yeah, that’s going to help. It’s going to give him more time, give him more options as far as coming set and having enough time, long holds and things like that. Whatever they have to do. Again, the pitch clock is one of those things that I think people are putting a lot of, you know, they’re thinking it’s gonna be a big deal and I don’t think it’ll bother too many guys necessarily.”
Kyle Wright enjoyed a breakout season in 2022 and he doesn’t think that the pitch clock will be something that affects him or his routine that much.
“I think I’ve always worked fairly quick[ly], so personally, I think I’ll be okay,” Wright said. “Getting to use it in Spring [Training] will definitely help. Sometimes you may go faster than you think and sometimes you may be working slower than you think. Now, you’re going to actually have to know that in your mindset that, ‘Hey, I gotta catch the ball and gotta go.’ Can’t take too much time to think about it. It’ll definitely be an adjustment but personally, thankfully, I think I won’t have too much of an issue with it, but stuff to learn about it for sure.”
d’Arnaud and Murphy both had thoughts on the new pickoff rules and a renewed emphasis on the running game. However, it might not be what you were expecting, as both are embracing the challenge that it will bring to catchers around the league.
“We’re going to be creative,” Murphy said of the new rule that limits pickoff throws to first. “I think times to home are going to be more important, especially with the limited number of picks. We can’t throw over a bunch of times to keep a guy honest. So I think keeping guys quick to home is going to be the best form of controlling the running game. You don’t want to throw all of your pickoffs then give the guy a free shot at second base. Again, we’ll see how this affects things. Action on the bases is always fun. I know I like when I’m watching the game and that kind of cat-and-mouse thing is happening. Hopefully we get more of that action on the bases and more guys trying to steal. I think that’s good for everybody.”
“Yeah, it’ll be fun,” d’Arnaud added. “It’s bringing back a part of the game I think that’s disappeared over the last five to 10 years. Growing up, you saw a lot more stolen bases, a lot more balls in play, a lot more hit and runs and it seems like the game is trending back towards that. So it’s just a little different game planning going into the game.”
Eliminating The Shift
Probably one of the more-discussed rule changes for 2023 is the restriction on defensive shifting. I think we still need to wait and see how much this really changes things and how teams adjust. Basically, the rule just says that you must have two infielders on each side of second base, and actually in the infield, but there will still be some positioning that takes place within those boundaries.
Third baseman Austin Riley said that he won’t miss having to run across the diamond to short right field any more and thinks it is going to help offensively.
“I think for the lefties, I think it’s gonna help a lot,” Riley said of eliminating the shift. “I know, I’m imagining Olson’s going to benefit from it a lot. I remember quite often some hits right up the middle where you smoke a ball and there’s a guy standing there. so you know, I think a lot of guys are going to see it in a positive aspect for them on the offensive side.”
Olson said that he didn’t think that the new rules would cause a change in his approach, but that it will be nice to be able to sneak a single through the right side again for a change.
“Well yeah, I mean, it’d be good to see some ground balls go through the four-hole again. I can’t remember the last time unless a guy was on first base. As far as approach, it’s not really going to change it. If I’m rolling over a ball, that’s normally a miss for me. I’m trying to stay through and drive something in the middle of the field, but it will be nice to get rewarded on a miss every once in a while. I really think it’ll be good for defense too. I think kind of getting back to the old way of playing defense and letting guys showcase their defensive ability and range. I think it’ll be good for the game.”
While it isn’t a surprise that most hitters are going to be for eliminating the shift, there is much more of a love/hate relationship with it for the pitchers. Wright said that he thinks it will add another element that will need to be observed during the spring, but doesn’t think it will ultimately change the way he pitches.
“I think for me, I won’t change the way I pitch too much just because I’m going to throw my sinker, I’m going to throw my curveball and kind of work off that,” Wright said on the shift. “There’s all the time you give up the hits that are the 100-hoppers to the left side and you’re like, screw the shift. Then you get the shift where you get a ball that’s a missile up the middle and you get a double play. So I feel like it’s going to all even out I think eventually. It’s definitely going to be a learning curve. I’ve pretty much played my entire professional career with the shift, so it’ll be interesting how it changes. Again, that’s where it kind of goes back to having good infielders, having good defense. Fortunately, we do and I’m definitely going to lean on those guys big time.”
Major League Baseball is going to a balanced scheduled for 2023, which will allow teams to play each of the other 29 teams every season. This is going to come at the expense of division games, which will be reduced from 19 to 14 matchups per rival. That is going to be a different look, especially for the NL East, where there were two teams that won 101 games in the Braves and the Mets. The Phillies finished third in the division, but made it all the way to the World Series.
“Yeah, it will be interesting to see how that affects the record,” Olson said.” Having two 100-win teams in our division last year is kind of wild with the amount of talent in our division and us beating up on each other. I’ll be interested to see how that works out.”
“Towards the later part of the season when you get in those dog days of summer, I think it’s going to more or less be like a refresher,” Riley added on the new schedule. “Seeing different faces. I know, I’m anxious just to go to different ballparks and different cities. It’ll be fun.”