Baseball will look different in 2023, when Major League Baseball implements sweeping rule changes. How, if at all, will the changes affect OKBet baseball betting?
Fortunately, the three major rule changes for 2023 have already been tested in professional baseball at the minor league level, providing data that allows us to predict what it might mean for MLB in the future.
What we’re most interested in is how the rule changes will affect run scoring, whether certain players or teams will benefit or suffer, and how the pennant races will be affected.
MLB Rule Changes for 2023
These new rules will be in effect beginning with the 2023 MLB season.
Rule against Defensive Shifts:
All four infielders must have both feet in the infield (neither can be on the outfield grass). When the pitch is delivered, two infielders must be on either side of the second base.
This rule was implemented in response to the game’s rapid increase in defensive shifts. To varying degrees, teams stack three defenders on one side of the infield. Teams shifted 12.1 percent of the time in 2017, according to MLB Statcast data (available through Baseball Savant). T
hat figure had risen to 34.1 percent by 2020. It was 30.9% in 2021, and it is now 32.9% this season. In the last two seasons, some teams, such as the Dodgers and Mets, have used the shift on more than half of all plays.
Does the change reduce run scoring?
The average MLB team scored 4.62 runs per game in 2002. In 2007, that figure had risen to 4.80, the highest of the century. However, since 2017, when we saw significant shifts, run scoring has fallen to 4.30 per game per team this season. However, according to Statcast data, launch angle and strikeouts may be the cause of that 11% decrease. Since 2012, strikeouts have increased by 17%.
Fewer balls are being put in play than ever before in baseball history, which is the primary reason for the decline in run scoring. Sure, when batters put the ball in play, the shift takes away singles, but the impact on run scoring is unlikely to be significant.
According to the data, prohibiting shifts has little or no effect on how many balls in play become hits.
MLB has been experimenting with shift bans at various minor league levels since 2019.
When shifts were allowed in 2019, the batting average on balls in play (BABIP) across Double-A levels was.305. The batting average on balls in play in 2021, with the shift restrictions in place, was.308.
BABIP was.307 in 2018-19 at the High A and Low A minor league levels, when fielders could shift and play wherever they wanted. BABIP was.308 in 2021 at that level, with shift bans and positioning rules, making little difference. In 2022, the BABIP at three levels of the minor leagues that prohibit shifts is only two points higher than it was in the most recent seasons when the shift was permitted.
The same is true for the Arizona Fall League, where MLB has experimented with shift prohibition. BABIP in the American Football League was.328 in 2017,.327 in 2018, and.313 in 2019. Teams were free to use the shift during those three seasons. The BABIP in 2021 was.328, the same as in 2017-18 when shifts were permitted in the AFL.
One caveat: defensive shifts are less common in the minor leagues than in the major leagues. Although no extensive data on shifts is kept (or is available) in the minors, managers and scouting departments use the tactic far more in the majors, where winning games is paramount. As a result, shift banning may increase BABIP in the major leagues, whereas it has little effect in the minors.
What Impact Will It Have on Baseball Betting?
Expect no drastic changes in run scoring. We’ve seen some base hits result from the shift in the minor leagues, but the realignment of defenders into a more traditional setup also takes away hits that would have gone through against the shift. MLB players are encouraged to hit the ball in the air, and BABIP will likely be very similar until this changes and/or strikeouts decrease.
Pace of Play Pitch Clock Rule
Pitchers will have up to 15 seconds between pitches when the bases are empty, and up to 20 seconds between pitches when there is at least one runner on base. Furthermore, with at least eight seconds remaining on the pitch clock, the batter must be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher. Failure to follow the rules will result in a ball (for a pitcher violation) or a strike (if the batter breaks the rule).
This rule should have a significant impact on game length. The average nine-inning game time in minor leagues that have used a pitch clock (since 2016) has decreased by 26 minutes. It has also increased stolen base attempts by about 4% because pitchers can no longer freely step off the base as they once could.
What Impact Will It Have on Baseball Betting?
The fact that games will be shorter makes no difference to bettors. More stolen base attempts are likely, but this will only affect players who are stolen base threats. MLB teams are still obsessed with launch angle and swinging for home runs, and they are afraid of getting outs on the base paths.
Larger Bases Rule: On all MLB fields, the first, second, and third bases will be increased in size from 15″ square to 18″ square.
The only data on larger bases (used in some minor leagues since 2021) is that they clearly reduce the number of baserunning injuries.
How Will It Affect MLB?
Larger bases shorten the distance between first and second bases and second and third bases by 4 1/2 inches. It has not been proven to increase stolen base attempts or run scoring, but the larger bases have only been in use for a short period of time.