It seems like over the last few years there’s been a ton of talk across MLB and fantasy baseball about potential rule changes. We’ve all seen the extra-innings rule come into play the last year and change. Buckle up though because the 2023 MLB rules changes are numerous and could easily have an effect on both MLB games as well as fantasy baseball values for 2023. Just how will these changes affect the outcomes and values? Let’s dive into each rule change coming to MLB in 2023 to find out what to expect.
2023 MLB Rule Changes
What is the MLB Shift Ban?
The ban has been all the rage in MLB over the last several years. Its use has grown exponentially each year since it became a thing about 10 years ago. Now all of that exponential growth will drop to near zero — well sort of. What is the shift ban though? How will it work in an actual game setting? How will this change how we look at hitters? Let’s talk about it.
For those unfamiliar with exactly how this discussion has manifested itself. It’s pretty simple — baseball wants more offense. How do they get more offense? By stopping the defense from shifting into massively advantageous positions against hitters. It started as a thing teams would do only against the biggest of pull hitters, however, that morphed into shifting the defense in some way — sometimes extreme — for virtually every hitter in the order. So to stop this from decreasing the offense so much MLB is banning the shift for 2023 and onward. The shift ban rule states that four infielders have to have their feet in the dirt (or infield grass) when the pitch is released. There also can only be two infielders on either side of second base.
There’s a full article breaking down this rule in the draft guide and talking about specific hitters it will help the most. The basic gist of it though is that lefty hitters who saw a lot of shifts last year should be in a far better spot for fantasy baseball value in 2023 in terms of not only batting average but also production. This isn’t solely about raising batting averages, it’s more about increasing the run-scoring potential of games as every hit robbed in the shift also could’ve led to a run being put on the board.
Why Are The MLB Bases Bigger in MLB in 2023?
It’s not often that so much time in the MLB offseason is spent discussing the bases but here we are. For the longest time the bases have been 15 inches square and that’s worked out just fine. However, an increase in injuries on the bases and a decrease in stolen bases prompted MLB to make a change, and thus the 2023 MLB rule change of bigger bases. Just how much bigger will they be and what can we expect for fantasy baseball in 2023? Funny you should ask.
The new bases will be increasing in size to 18 inches square. That extra three inches of space will do two things — in theory. Firstly, it is designed to reduce the number of injuries that occur in on-base collisions. Giving more space for fielders and baserunners to coexist is always a good idea. However, there is a second reason behind the decision that has fantasy baseball implications.
A bigger base will also lead to more room for baserunners to slide into. That’s true. What does that mean for stealing though? A bigger area to slide into means swim moves and slides to the sides of the bases have a slightly better shot at leading to success. However, there’s a slightly more obscure reason why steals might increase as well. The base paths are 90’, based on 15” bases. Now that the bases are three inches bigger on all sides, that leads to a shortening of the base paths by 4.5 inches. That might not sound like a lot but just think of how many steals attempts come down to a bang-bang play. That small gap might make all the difference in favor of the would-be base stealers. We saw stolen bases go up in 2022 and that trend should continue around the league again in 2023. That’s not the only rule change that could help steals though.
What is the Pickoff Limitation in 2023?
We’ve all seen at-bats where a pitcher throws over to first base 3-4 times while only throwing one pitch. That will no longer be possible — without penalty that is. New in 2023, MLB is instituting a limitation on the number of pickoff attempts per plate appearance that can happen. A pitcher gets the chance to step off the rubber twice per plate appearance including pick-off attempts, mound visits, and a few other reasons. However, if a pitcher attempts a third pickoff attempt and doesn’t pickoff the runner a balk is the penalty.
Limiting the number of times a pitcher can attempt to pick off a runner is intended to speed up the game by not having so many plays where no action is happening. However, a side effect of this could be more steals. Why? Because if a runner knows the pitcher can’t throw over to the base again in that at-bat, they can take a bigger, more uninhibited lead off the base and thus get a better jump.
Is the MLB Pitch Clock being used in 2023?
If you’ve been paying attention to the minor leagues the last few seasons, the pitch clock has been making its way through the farm system, much like a prospect. It started with its testing phase in the Atlantic League, an independent league MLB uses as a testing ground, and then it showed up in the minors at all levels last year. Now it’s in the majors for 2023. There’s been a ton of discussion about it and some of the pitchers are on the fence about it. However, there hasn’t been much evidence against it thus far.
While there was a pitch clock in the upper minors since 2015, the current edition of the rule, the one coming to MLB in 2023, wasn’t put into play until last year. The results from the changes were stark and immediate. The average Triple-A game dropped by 21 minutes down to 2:43 and Double-A games it’s been reduced by 17 minutes and at High-A it’s shortened games by more than 30 minutes. That’s a huge change in a good direction. But what’s the penalty for not following the pitch clock?
In the majors, the time limit for the pitcher is a two-fold approach. If no runner is on base and/or the previous pitch wasn’t made contact with, the pitcher has 15 seconds to throw the next pitch. If there’s at least one runner on base or the previous pitch was made contact with, the clock is set to 20 seconds. For the batter’s part, they have to be in the batter’s box and ready to hit with eight seconds left on the clock. If the pitcher goes over the clock, an automatic ball is called but if the batter isn’t ready to hit on time, an automatic strike is called.
What do the MLB rules changes mean for stats in 2023?
All of these changes are great for the pace of play and inducing more action on the field consistently. What do they mean for fantasy baseball and on-field stats as a whole? Let’s start with average and BABIP.
Even with the shift ban, pitch clock, and bigger bases, the trial run of the rules in the minors proved to be inconclusive as to improvements in league batting averages and BABIP marks. Sure, there was a slight uptick in a few levels but other levels saw numbers go down so it’s entirely likely that it’s more due to the talent and players at each level rather than the blanket rules changes. However, there was a general overarching uptick in stolen bases and stolen base attempts per game with these rule changes. So the bigger bases and the pickoff limitations is having their intended effects which is good news for fantasy baseball values. Upping stolen bases means a chance to get a handful more steals from several players on your roster and that really adds up over the course of the season.
What happened to the pitcher's stats though? Does making them pitch faster and not get off the mound change their ratios? Well… no actually. Even with the pitch clock and pickoff limitations in place, over the course of the trial run in the minors, there wasn’t much of a statistical difference between the years without the rules changes and last year. In terms of ERA, K/9, BB/9, K:BB, HR/9, H/9, and innings pitched the pitch clock didn’t really change any of them. Those numbers were pretty consistent with the 2021 stats that didn’t have an effective pitch clock in place. There also wasn’t a discernible increase in injuries that could be attributed to having to up the pace of pitching either.
So overall what can we expect on the field in 2023? Much of the same as we saw in previous years with a slight increase in steals. For those hoping that a massive jump in averages will happen due to the ban in the use of the shift might be sorely disappointed in the results, outside of the players who were shifted on the most in the last few seasons. Pitchers will likely continue to dominate based on stuff and spin as they have been in the last few years. The only thing to watch for early in the season is the additional balls and strikes called automatically as well as balks. MLB has stated that they will be emphasizing balks this year both in terms of on the pickoff rule as well as regular delivery balk calls.
Check out the rest of the FREE Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide for More Strategy Articles, Player Profiles and Rankings!