Earlier this week I got a few Rangers pitchers’ reactions to the upcoming 2023 rule changes. Next, let’s turn to the hitters’ perspective and catcher’s side of what’s coming next season. Sam Huff and Josh Smith have their experience in both the minor leagues and majors; therefore, they’ve experienced pitch clocks, larger bases, and the disengagement rule.
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Pitch Clock: Pitchers must start their motion once the clock hits:00. It’s set at 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on base. Hitters must be ready at eight seconds. Hitters are allowed one timeout per plate appearance.
There’s a slight variation from the Major League proposal to the minor leagues (minors is one second less for both scenarios, 14/19 instead of 15/20). That said, the tempo is out of both the hitters’ and pitchers’ hands, and for a veteran like Nathaniel Lowe, the tempo is something he wants to control. “I like to control the tempo, and I don’t think I’m going to be crazy about having a clock tell me when I need to stand in the box,” Lowe told me. Josh Smith says that he felt rushed when he was playing, and of course, if the hitter isn’t ready at eight seconds, then it’s an automatic strike call.
A catcher like Sam Huff sees the benefits behind it, but punishing the guilty party if they don’t meet a time is a bit harsh. “There are times where we wanted to step off, and you can’t, and you just got to throw the pitch,” Sam said. “I don’t know how people are going to act when they call time, and it’s a strike or the hitters not in a certain amount of time, and guys take their times, and they call time, and then I want to call time again, you can’t.”
On June 30th, Round Rock and Las Vegas played a nine-inning contest in less than two hours (clocked in at 1:57), and looking at box scores noticing several Round Rock Triple-A games around 2:30 and under three hours. “It was probably the best feeling ever,” Huff said. “But it also causes a lot of issues with tempo. Certain pitchers like to do certain routines, [and] hitters like to do certain routines. So, you don’t know what you’re going to get out of it. It will be a mixture of mixed opinions, ideas, and opinions about how they are implementing it.”
There’ll be growing pains like anything else, but the key is when an umpire calls an automatic ball on a three-ball count or an automated strike calls with two strikes. Huff recalled an instance last month where Albuquerque Isotopes’ shortstop Alan Trejo got rung up because he called time, and the umpire didn’t hear him. “[Trejo] stepped out of the box and was talking to himself. He called time quietly [and] walked away. The umpire didn’t hear it, and as he was getting at nine seconds, [Alan] was looking down [and] the umpire said time, it’s a strike. [The umpires] tell us we have to make eye contact saying I need time to call time.” That instance ended the inning for the Isotopes as runners at second and third.
Pitchers will control the tempo; therefore, I see it being difficult early on, especially during the timeout situations, but I think hitters will adapt better than pitchers. I believe in crucial spots, the absence of not calling time or calling time “incorrectly” will cause arguments and even ejections early in the season.
Pickoffs: Pitchers can disengage from the rubber twice in an at-bat (whether stepping off or throwing to a base). When a pitcher does that, it resets the clock. Any disengagement after that will result in a balk unless a runner is thrown out.
The first two times are business as usual in today’s game, but once the second pickoff attempt happens, it opens the door for baserunners. “Once they pick you off twice, it’s almost like you can just go,” Josh Smith told me. “It’s definitely different.” The idea is there from Huff’s perspective, but he feels two attempts are too few. “We had guys stealing after we pick off twice, and right away too,” Sam told me. “[Pitchers] wouldn’t be able to disengage because that’s a pick. So if they do picks, I think it should be five picks each. It should be more than three.”
I asked Huff if there were more pitch-outs, and he said yes, mainly against the speedy runners. “Overall, it was usually just on us. They give us numbers, but it’s still [me] running the calling game. I need to understand the running game, whose on, who’s not running, and then how do I need to go about it,” Huff said. I’m curious about how baserunners will attack when a second disengagement happens. How much of a bluff they’ll make to second base, or will they take off completely knowing the only way they’re out is if they’re tagged out? I see a lot of strategy from the baserunner involved.
Shift Ban: Teams must have two infielders on the right side and left side of second base. The fielders must have both feet within the infield dirt. Infielders cannot switch sides (i.e., having the shortstop play second base and vice versa) unless it’s a defensive substitution.
“I think it’s definitely going to be a lot more fun for guys like I know Joey [Gallo] ‘s probably excited,” Sam Huff laughed. The shift’s banning will be the most intriguing thing on the offensive side next season. I asked Nathaniel Lowe, someone, who uses all fields, and he’s excited about it for many reasons. “Banning the shift is good, especially at [Globe Life Field] because the ball travels on the ground here. So, having the middle of the field is going to be nice,” Lowe said. “You make defenders play defense [and] make the conventional style of hitting more rewarding because there are more hits out there.”
Josh Smith looks at it from both sides, the offense and defense. Of course, more hits equate to more action in the game, but Smith says it gives a chance for infielders to show off their skills more. “[Banning the shift] allows infielders to show off their range. It allows the good infielders who can get to those balls to make spectacular plays,” Smith told me. “That’ll make the game more fun. It’ll make for really good plays instead of guys just being squared up on balls or making rangy plays.”
It changes his approach for someone like Huff, who teams shift against. “[Astros] were shifting me pull-side [and] I was just trying to hit balls the other way. I’d get hits, and I was like, okay. [In the Majors], they’ll pitch to [the shift], but you can still hit the other way. It’s harder in this game up here. It’ll make the game more fun.”
“[Banning the shift] is good for everybody,” Lowe said. “More hits all the way through the order [and] around the league, it’s going to be more hits. It should be good for us.” I’m curious to see how approaches change at the plate in Spring Training and early in the season. For someone like Nathaniel Lowe, who tries to go the other way, does that change his at-bat approach to a more pull side because teams shift him in today’s environment? Only time will tell the results.
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— Alex Plinck🏳️🌈 (@aplinckTX) September 14, 2022
Bigger Bases: Bases will expand from fifteen to eighteen inches square.
As with the pitchers, the position players are on-board too. “I like bigger bases because, in Triple-A, I didn’t have to worry about hitting the bag. I could just kind of run,” Sam said. For a speedy base stealer like Josh Smith, he says it’s more straightforward and more comfortable overall. “[Larger bases] are easier to touch when you’re running the bases,” Smith told me. “They’re flatter, so you won’t roll your ankle as much. I like the bigger bases.”
An aspect I was curious about was first base positioning. I asked Nathaniel Lowe if the bigger base would assist with more groundouts because the first baseman can extend slightly further out. “We might see a couple more outs because of all those replay outs that are sent in and turn safe because of that extra inch so that trench could help, “Nathaniel said. “Also, it could hurt [because] the base is closer.” Will it affect more putouts on the ground? Maybe, but to Lowe’s point, it could go hand-in-hand. The one factor would be if Lowe or any first baseman plays with the exact distance between himself and the far-left edge of the base; it puts him inches further away from the right field line.
With anything, there will be growing pains. I thought Sam Huff made an excellent point, especially in crucial matchups that baseball fans want to see. “I think it’s tough to ask veterans to [change], [when] they’ve done what they need to do. You’re talking like Max Scherzer, a guy that’s very like he’s very [specific] if someone walks behind him while he’s warmed up, he gets mad. You take your time, and he’s ready to go like he’s going to kind of look at you. Now you’re going to tell him, hey, you have 15 seconds to throw a strike, and if you don’t, or if the hitter is at nine seconds, you’re telling me Aaron judge doesn’t in the box or like anybody who doesn’t get the box it’s called a strike. Yes, that’s where I feel like it’s going to have issues with people.” We’ll wait and find out the success or damage next season.
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