Valentine’s Day is upon us, and there’s no better time than this to reflect on the things we love, or perhaps the things we hate. The rule changes coming to Major League Baseball in 2023 hold a prominent place in the news again, with the extra-innings runner now here to stay, so today is a good day to look at what’s to love and hate about each of the new rules for this coming season. Some are much more appealing than others, but each at least comes with some positives and negatives to consider.
Extra-innings automatic runner
News broke on Monday that this recent addition to the game’s highest level is now considered a permanent one, after it was adopted for the 2020 season, so love it or hate it, it’s not going anywhere.
As far as what there is to love, it does certainly help shorten games that may be destined to take an eternity. There is also the angle of some added intrigue as far as strategy goes. When is the right time to bunt? How aggressive should runners be on the basepaths? They’re all things to think about and debate as a game goes into extras.
In my opinion however, there is much more to hate about this one. It was put in place to help speed up the game, but it only helps with length, and only in certain games, while neglecting the actual issue at hand: pace. What it takes away are games that might go, say, 16-18 innings, a rarity that myself and many others surely got a kick out of. And all it takes is a couple so-so fly balls to score a single run, leading to plenty of anticlimactic conclusions.
This adjustment to the time of the game is much easier to love. This one actually addresses the more pressing issue of pace, and has a track record of success in the minor leagues, cutting games by over 20 minutes on average. For those who may get bored during the course of particularly slow games or the devastatingly tedious deliberations from the Pedro Báezes of the world, this could play a part in growing interest for the game.
The hate-worthy aspects aren’t quite as visible, but nothing is perfect. Some folks just don’t want to see any kind of clock associated with baseball’s mythos. Most notably, I could see this addition to the game unnecessarily rushing high-leverage spots. Baseball is great at building drama throughout a game or at-bat, a pitch clock could take away from that.
Position player pitching eligibility
Position players pitching used to be a fun, novel thing for fans to enjoy, but it has recently gotten a bit out of hand.
The new rule makes it so position players can only pitch if the team is winning by 10 or more, losing by 8 or more, or is in extras. As the novelty has worn off, it’s easy to love a change that makes those often hard to watch at-bats less common.
Perhaps, however, it’s still something you like to laugh at. In that case, there is plenty of reason to hate. I also think any rules that limit player usage can get a little weird. There may be procedures in place, but this change could reasonably place teams in tight spots if their ‘pen is already running thin and then forced into a hectic game where their starter left early with an injury.
It’s not hard to love another rule that will help speed up the pace of games. I’m likely not alone in occasionally getting frustrated when pitchers throw over four times when a speedster is on base. What I love the most about this however, is seeing if anyone ever has the guts to throw over a third time, meaning they either get the out, or the runner gets to advance on a balk.
As far as issues with this one go, the rule defines basically any step-off the same as a full pickoff attempt. It’s good not to deal in grey areas, but it could definitely put batteries in a tough spot when trying to get on the same page.
This rule should be getting the most Valentines this year, as there is not much of a downside. In theory, a bigger bag should help limit some injuries on the basepaths, as this is what has happened in the minors.
If you must hate, one improvement on this change would be to make the bases softer as well, to further limit some of the gruesome injuries we’ve seen on the current rock-hard ones.
This is likely both the most polarizing and most impactful new rule on a regular basis. Mostly, what I love about this rule is seeing to what extent it affects players around the league. Perhaps Joey Gallo will be the next player to hit .400 (okay, okay, maybe that’s pushing it). I also think there’s a chance this helps increase excitement for the sport, as it will likely allow more hits as well as defensive gems.
This rule however, has plenty of downsides. In a way, it takes away some creativity and strategy that is unique to baseball and might only help batters so much anyway. If a manager wants to put all seven position players on the infield for some reason, I think there’s a good argument for their ability to do just that.