Baseball has approved new rules in 2023 designed to improve the pace of play and lift sagging batting averages around the game. The new rules include:
- A ban on defensive shifts
- A 15-second pitch clock with no runners on base, and a 20-second pitch clock with runners on;
- A limit of two pickoff attempts per hitter, with the third attempt constituting a balk if the runner is not picked off
- Larger bases, from 15 inches square to 18 inches square, to lessen the chances a runner steps on a defender’s foot.
How could these new rules affect the Royals?
Ban on defensive shifts
Shifts have always been a part of the game, even back when infielders crowded the right side of the infield for Ted Williams. But they have become ubiquitous with a defensive shift employed 34 percent of the time this year - 55 percent of the time against left-handed hitters. Accordingly, BABIP on groundballs has fallen about six points since 2015.
The new rules will require four defenders within the infield dirt (sorry Frank White) and two on each side of second base when the pitch is thrown. Overall the ban on defensive shifts has had a negligible effect on BABIP, but it could have a huge impact on certain hitters. Vinnie Pasquntino is one of the most shifted-on hitters in the big leagues, facing a shift 94 percent of the time, although he has had little trouble with it, posting a .354 weighted OBA.
Salvador Perez could be the hitter that most benefits from a ban on shifts. You can see where he peppers the ball in the infield (just ask Josh Donaldson!)
Salvy and MJ Melendez are the two most successful Royals hitters against the shift, and each could see a big offensive boost if teams are limited in how many defenders they have on the pull side.
Royals hitters vs. shift and non-shift
|Micahel A. Taylor||13.9||.283||86.1||.321|
|Bobby Witt Jr.||4.3||.175||95.7||.321|
Defensively, the Royals may not see much difference without a shift. Only five teams in baseball shift less than they do, although Royals pitches have fared a bit better when the defense employs the shift as they do with a standard defensive alignment.
If you watch a game from 30 years ago and compare it to a game today, what will stand out to you is the amount of dead time between pitches in modern baseball. Grant Brisbee observed this in an article where he compared a 1984 Cubs game to a game from 2014, finding the total time of “inaction pitches” - when nothing happens - was 32 minutes 47 seconds in 1984 compared to 57 minutes 41 seconds in 2014.
The pitch clock is an attempt to reduce this dead time, and after tinkering with different times in the minors, settled on 15 seconds with no runners on base and 20 seconds with a runner on. Pitchers are going to have to speed things up - Fangraphs keeps track of the seconds between pitches and has found pitchers overall average 23.1 seconds-per-pitch.
If there is one pitcher that will definitely not be affected by the pitch clock, its Brady Singer. He has the quickest pace of any pitcher in baseball with at least 100 innings pitched this year, taking an average of just 19.5 seconds-per-pitch. The man pitches like his hair was on fire, and anyone that saw his outing on Sunday knows he means business. He went seven innings in a game that took just two hours and 11 minutes to play.
The Royals pitcher who will have to pick up the pace is Josh Staumont, who takes an average of 28.2 seconds-per-pitch.
Royals pitcher pace figures, according to Fangraphs
Almost every pitcher should be at least somewhat familiar with a pitch clock by now - it has been in effect in the upper minors since 2015, and in spring training games since 2019. The clock has not shown any changes in fastball velocities in pitchers, and little change in walk rates, home run rates, or hit-by-pitch rates. Some actually feel the pitcher may be at an advantage with a faster tempo.
Bowie right-hander Shelton Perkins further explained the advantage pitchers might have.
“When we get the sign, we know what we’re throwing. A hitter sees a pitch, two pitches, he’s trying to process his scouting report, what he thinks might be coming. It kind of speeds up his process,” Perkins said. ”So really, it favors us.”
More stolen bases
The change that might appeal to the Royals the most are the combination of limiting pickoff attempts and larger bases. This has caused stolen base attempts to rise in the minor leagues, which could allow the Royals to run more. Attempts are up 27 percent in the minors since 2019 and success rate have gone up from 68.2 percent to 77.6 percent.
The Royals have the second-fastest man in baseball with Bobby Witt Jr., according to Sprint Speed data. He has stolen 27 bases in 34 attempts this year, but we could see that number rise, particularly if batting averages do go up with a ban on shifts. Nate Eaton also ranks highly in sprint speed, and if Adalbert Mondesi returns next year and stays healthy, he could benefit from the new rules as well.
Mike Matheny already seems to be licking his chops at the prospect of having more incentive to send his young hitters.
“The bigger base for a speedy team, especially we’re in this park that’s us, I like that,” Matheny said. “We like to steal bases and be more incentivized to lay a bunt down, be more incentivized to put a ball and try to leg it out. You’re gonna see infield hits go up.”
Will the new rules in 2023 benefit the Royals?
Probably a wash