A new baseball season is upon us, and there are a lot of changes in store.
Rather than the basic “if everything goes right for my team, and wrong for everyone else, my team just might make the playoffs” discussion, almost all the talk has been about the many rule changes that MLB has instituted.
The pitch clock and other ones covering the “pace of play” have gotten the most attention, and as we’ve seen in Spring Training, are working out as intended. Teams have adjusted to them, as well as the rules regarding defensive shifts and stolen bases.
But there are a few others that have largely flown under the radar.
In an effort to encourage base stealing, the size of the bases has been increased a few inches. What I haven’t seen mentioned (perhaps I just haven’t read enough) is that this also adds a few inches to the reach of infielders on defense. Throws won’t have to go quite as far, and defenders will have a bit more range available to them on wide throws. I don’t expect it to matter much – but it might neutralize some of the advantage given to the base runner. Thought it doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect in Spring Training, it will definitely be worth some attention over the course of the season.
Something else they snuck in under the intent of speeding up the game is a shortening of the time allowed for managers to challenge a call on the field.
Under the old rules, a manager had ten seconds to signal if they were thinking about challenging a call, and then twenty seconds to decide if they were actually going to challenge it. Now, they have to signal immediately, and they only have fifteen seconds to decide. It’s not clear how much time per game this will actually save, since no one keeps the numbers on how often managers signal for a hold and then do not challenge. But an informal survey of some managers suggests that there will be a lot more calls for a hold than before – better to be safe than miss your chance to overturn a call, right?
Finally, the schedule has been “balanced”. Every team will face every other team the same number of times. No more taking advantage of a weak division to add to your win total, or being “penalized” by being one of a couple of strong teams in the same division. Ostensibly, this is to give every fan an equal chance at seeing the star players in person. And it does seem fair. But would it affect the pennant races? Not much.
However, keep in mind what happened last season. The Braves won the NL East thanks to a tiebreaker; forcing the Mets into a Wild Card series with the Padres. The Phillies edged the Brewers by one game for the final Wild Card spot – and went on to win the pennant.
These rule changes probably won’t affect more than a single game. These days, though, a single game can make a huge difference. But which of the 162 games will it be? Only one way to find out.
Let the games begin!!