Mick Gillispie, Jesse Goldberg-Strassler and Kevin Reichard discuss the beginning of spring training and preview MLB rule changes in the Ballpark Digest Broadcaster Chat.
None of the 2023 MLB changes are new to Mick and Jesse, who spent the past few seasons watching these changes in action when tested in the minor leagues. Discussed are the rule changes one by one, in order of impact:
No shifts, as two fielders must be positioned on each side of second base. Mick likes the ban on shifts only because batters today lack the skills to take advantage of a shift; former greats could address the shift, but today’s players seemingly lack those skills. Taking away the shift levels the playing field. Jesse goes a step further and discusses the 2022 Florida State League “pie wedge” experiment, where a pie-slice shape was drawn into the outfield and fielders couldn’t be positioned within the shape of the pie wedge. This rewards balls hit up the middle.
A larger base, nicknamed the pizza box base. In theory, the larger bags should lead to more action on the bases—more steals, more adventurous baserunning—but the rationale for the larger base was to improve safety. In the end, Mick didn’t notice much impact from the base tinkering; Jesse noted that the issue was less the size of the base and more the positioning.
The pitch clock has been receiving the most attention at the start of the 2023 spring training season, as it’s had the most visible impact on play. Despite a flurry of stories showing shortened game tunes as spring training starts, these are fairly meaningless tests: the real test will be game times at the end of spring training, when almost all games are televised and players are more used to the clock routines.
The interesting factor will how teams and players take advantage of the new rules. Some pitchers used to working fast should thrive; some teams built around fielding and speed, like the Miami Marlins, should thrive. We will see more games within games with these rule changes.
Also discussed; teams tackling renovations in their spring-training facilities not this year, but next.
The discussion ends with a look at what’s shaping up to be a huge existential issue for baseball: the rapid decline of RSNs—and the budgeted payments to teams—and how MLB will be stepping in to create their own broadcast networks from scratch. One big issue, Mick points out, is that MLB is seemingly basing their efforts on the cable TV structure of 20 years ago and not in the modern age of streaming media. Other sports have adjusted their broadcast efforts to the digital age, like MLS totally dropping local broadcasts in favor of a national Apple TV deal. But MLB seems to be stuck in the past and not looking to the future at a time when consumers habits are changing, when sports wagering is becoming a huge factor in media consumption, and when consumers are interested more in what individual players are doing vs. team results—for better or for worse.
Mick Gillispie of Voice of the Tennessee Smokies. Jesse Goldberg-Strassler is Voice of the Lansing Lugnuts and author of The Baseball Thesaurus. Kevin Reichard is publisher of Ballpark Digest.
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