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How MLB’s Rule Changes Could Affect Offseason Strategy

The MLB is introducing several new rule changes next season. These rule changes will mainly affect how the game takes place on the field, but they could dramatically affect how baseball executives across the league approach the offseason.

This year’s MLB offseason could include trades of players such as Shohei Ohtani, and several key free-agency signings. The impact of the MLB’s new rules could have an effect on how the offseason unfolds.

MLB’s New Rules

Ahead of the 2023 season, the MLB will introduce several rule changes which are intended to improve the pace of play within the league along with the number of runs scored during each game.

These changes include a new pitch clock, which was introduced in the minor leagues this season, larger bases, and limits on defensive shifts. A few of these changes could have major impacts on how the game is played on the field.

The pitch clock is mainly intended to lessen the average length of an MLB game. Pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch without runners on base, and 20 seconds to throw a pitch with runners on base. The new rule also requires batters to be within the box before there are eight seconds remaining on the pitch clock. According to the MLB, the rule change decreased the average length of minor league games by 26 minutes.

However, one way the introduction of the pitch clock may affect the way the game is played on the field is the limit it introduces on pickoff attempts. Pitchers are limited to two “disengagements,” (defined as a step-off or pickoff attempt) per at-bat.

In combination with the new larger bases also set to be introduced next season, this could cause MLB teams to increase the amount of steals they attempt. First, second, and third base will expand from 15 inches square to 18 inches square. The rule change’s main purpose is to avoid collisions and injuries, but according to the MLB, the changes to the bases and pitch clock increased steal attempts in the minor leagues from 2.23 in 2019 to 2.83 in 2022; with the success rate increasing from 68% to 77% according to the MLB.

The most significant change to the rules is the limits being placed on defensive shifts. Teams will now be required to position at least four players in the infield, while two players have to be completely on each side of second base.

The goal of this change is to increase the number of hits on balls put in play, and to “restore more traditional outcomes on batted balls,” according to the MLB. The biggest impact will likely be on left-handed hitters, especially those more likely to pull groundballs toward first or second base.

How This Could Impact Team’s Approaches This Offseason

MLB’s new rules could affect how teams approach this offseason. Defense will likely be more important in the decision-making process, as limits on the shift will prevent teams from placing their best defenders in the best position to make defensive plays during each at-bat.

Players who are excellent at stealing bases could also benefit from the rule changes, as teams could decide to attempt to steal more bases next season due to the expanded bases and pitch clock rules.

Left-handed hitters such as Anthony Rizzo, who could opt out of his contract and become a free agent after this season, will likely benefit the most from the rule changes. Hitters such as Rizzo, who frequently hit the ball to the right side of the infield, were those most affected by the increased use of shifts across the MLB during the last several seasons.

Teams will likely consider singing those players, who could benefit from the changes to the rules and improve on offense next year.

All of the rule changes could combine to significantly affect the way teams approach their offseasons. It could result in new approaches to roster construction, and affect the sport both on and off the field.

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