Major League Baseball is going to look quite a bit different next year compared to the product we’ve seen on the field in recent seasons.
Teams will no longer be able to shift and load up with defenders on one side of the infield (or even in the shallow outfield). And pitchers will all be going up against the same pitch clock, designed to improve the pace of the game.
While these changes won’t take effect until the 2023 season, the Cubs have been getting a head start on adjusting to the new rules.
The team was officially eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend so David Ross and his coaching staff have played around with not shifting and using that as another tool to evaluate players.
“We still talk through some of the positioning stuff and the shift stuff right now,” Ross said in an interview with Taylor McGregor Tuesday. “How hard do we want to do some of that? When does it make sense to win a game right now?
“And also let’s take some innings and see what it looks like from a personnel standpoint up the middle when we don’t shift. We’re taking all those things into consideration.”
That might mean assessing Zach McKinstry’s full range at second base and not shifting the shortstop over to provide another defender on the right side of the infield. It might mean playing guys at different positions to see where they’re best suited in the new landscape.
Nico Hoerner has been moved all over the field, routinely making plays from the grass in shallow right field. But those types of outcomes will be impossible under the new shift rules, as each infielder has to keep their feet on the dirt as the pitch is being delivered.
Ross thinks the new rules will help lead to a better, more exciting brand of baseball.
“The shift is gonna bring out more athletic plays — the defense is gonna stand out a little more,” Ross said. “There are great athletes on this field that are capable of doing amazing things. You spread them out and let their athleticism and their skills show, I think that’s gonna be an exciting product for the fans.”
Then there’s the pitch clock. Starting next season, pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on.
Even though the rule hasn’t gone into effect yet, the Cubs are already evaluating which pitchers might need to improve their pace.
“Some of the bullpens, [we’re] putting guys on pitch clocks or timing them to let us know, OK, who are the guys that we might need to worry about and who are the guys we probably don’t have to mess with at all?” Ross said. “Wade Miley, I don’t think it’s anybody we’ve got to fool with. We’re just trying to take it all in and be ready and prepared when we get to Spring Training.”