JUPITER, Fla. – Nearly two weeks into spring training games, the St. Louis Cardinals are preparing for the upcoming season with the reality of several new changes.
Major League Baseball is introducing two significant rule changes and one new field arrangement for 2023. Among those…
- A pace-of-play adjustment for pitchers and hitters alike, MLB now adopts a pitch-clock system similar to that of the minor leagues. Pitchers are required to throw to hitters within 15 seconds if bases are empty or 20 seconds if runners are on base.
- Hitters will only be allowed one timeout per plate appearance and must return to the box with eight seconds remaining on the clock. Otherwise, they run the risk of getting called for a strike.
- Also, pitchers get two disengagements per at-bat, whether that come as a pickoff attempt or mound step-off per batter. Testing that out a third time in an at-bat means a balk if a runner is on base.
- Those odd, but occasionally effective moments where you might see five infielders or three to the first-base side for a left-handed hitter are no longer.
- MLB’s new setup requires teams to position two infielders on each side of second base (no more, no less) when the pitcher starts his windup. All four infielders are also asked to keep both feet within the infield while the pitcher is on rubber. Outfielders can draw closer to home plate if need-be for an at-bat, though infield territory is off limits.
- One key part of the game is larger than ever. The standard size for first base, second base and third base now increases from a 15-inch square to a 18-inch square. Home plate remains the same size.
- Bigger bases will reduce distance for runners by three inches from home to 1B and 3B to home. They will also reduce the distances by 4.5 inches from 1B to 2B and 2B to 3B. The main priority here is player safety.
How are these changes shaping up for the Cardinals so far?
Baseball games had a standard duration of nearly three hours last year. The Cardinals have finished 7 of their first 11 spring games in under 2 hours and 30 minutes, nearly half an hour faster than the average in previous years. None of their games have eclipsed the three-hour mark in duration at this point.
For the shift bans, several left-handed hitters who might be susceptible to the shift are enjoying strong starts to spring. Brendan Donovan is hitting .304 with three home runs and nine RBIs with ample starting opportunities. Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman, regarded as top prospects in previous springs, also have a pair of big flys and on-base-plus-slugging rates greater than .900.
Bigger bases, in the early going, allow the Cardinals to explore more stolen bases and double play strategies. St. Louis has swiped six bases so far, which would pace to slightly below last year’s total (95) at a 162-game pace. That said, the Cardinals are seeing some positive returns early from ground-ball reliant pitchers too, like Steven Matz and Dakota Hudson.
As players adjust to new rules, some away from their camps for the World Baseball Classic, the Cardinals offered many comments semi-recently on the new changes…
“I think the learning curve for players and managers is going to be huge in spring training this year, underdstanding we got guys who work slow and fast. Shifts are going to be a big thing for us in spring training. It’s going to help people get into a better rhythm, [but] it’s gonna be an adjustment for several of our guys.”
“I definitely think there’s going to be a learning curve. There will be a premium with learning how to deal with whatever the rules are. … I think back to replay. We tried it in Spring Training, but not until maybe halfway through that first year was everyone comfortable with how it was working. Major League Baseball did a good job adapting and changing those rules. If of this stuff has uninteded consequences, they’ll look through that.”
“I think [the pitch clock] is going to actually be tougher for hitters. Hitters have a slower pre-pitch routine where they set out adjust, argue and have to get back in the box. … Looking into this next season, the hitting side will be the biggest adjustment. I think our pitchers do a good jobs with pace.”
On pitch clock: “Some guys are going to thrive, some guys are going to take a little bit to adjust, but overall I think the game is going to be fine. We’ll all get used to it. When there are guys on, the timing felt fine with runners on base. It’s more without runners on base that I think pitchers will have an advantage.”
On bases: “It’s still 90 feet to the front of the plate. It should be normal for double plays, but stolen bases will be a big one. … Those swim moves and slides a lot of guys make are going to be more effective. We’re going to have strategies for that as infielders, but I think for us, straddling the bag to try to take a tag is going to try to be the way to do it.”
On the pitch clock: “I was able to do some of that [pitch-clock hitting] in the fall leagues and minor leagues. I think teamwise, this team does a great job of communication. It’s all about learning and growing as a team. We won’t miss it.”
On shift bans: “If you have good direction, I feel like you can still have good success. At times last year, I would beat the shift to the opposite field because I was being pitched that way. I wasn’t trying to do that, I was just trying to hit where it was pitched. Defensive side of things, those instincts kind of fall into that too.”
“I had the pitch clock when I was a starter. The last four years, I haven’t had much of a pitch clock in the big leagues. It’s something we can adjust too. I think it’s going to be a learning process for everybody.”
“I think we faced difficulty a little bit with [the pitch clock] last year, the shot clock. We had it in Memphis, came up to the big leagues, and it didn’t exist. We had a lot of guys, including myself, that were almost in a sprint. That was something I learned, to slow down. I can see it being a tough adjustment.”
“I think it’s going to be worse for [the hitters] because everyone’s always taking forever (said jokingly). You get the sign, the pitch count and should just be pretty right-to-it after that.”
“I had a full year of it in Triple-A. I would say it was more difficult to come out of the pitch clock into the big leagues. You’re so used to getting into the box and getting ready to hit. I think it will affect everyone differently.”
“The team that communicates the best is going to have an advantage. You’re going to have guys spread all over the place. You’re going to have new rules, but the team that really locks in on how to communicate those things and keep everyone on track is definitely going to have an advantage. There are certain ones that could get pretty silly, depending on how you want to go about it. There will be strategy around all of it.”
On shift bans (what it means for outfielders): “I think the league has made it pretty clear, let’s play the game. Don’t make us another rule in here just to make sure the left fielder is playing in front of the right fielder. We’re doing this for a reason, so don’t get cute with what we have. And if you do, we’ll write it in. I don’t think we’ll see a whole lot of that.”
Bill Dewitt II
“I was a big advocate for all of them really, particularly the shift. I felt like it’s really tough on certain left-handed hitters, in some ways kind of unfair. Pitch clock, the dead time in the game, there’s no action when a pitcher of somebody is out of the box all the time. … I think the pitch clock and the shifts are great changes. I think it’s exciting to see it all play out.”