Thread: Stage Four

It doesn’t exist. But we keep hoping.

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What will all the rule changes actually do? Evan Drellich of the Athletic talked to the best and the brightest.

LAS VEGAS — Major League Baseball will be played differently next summer, and that means teams are already behaving at least a little differently this winter.

At the general managers’ meetings on Tuesday, several top club executives acknowledged they’re evaluating players in a fresh context this offseason because of MLB’s new playing rules for 2023: the ban on the shift, the pitch clock, the restrictions on pitchers checking runners and the new larger bases.

“We have done work to try to predict what the effects of these rules will be for individual players,” said Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, “and we have and we certainly will do work to see as a team, the way we play the game, how do we win with these new rules? And that’s important too.”

Ultimately, all the changes are explicitly intended to alter the results on the field. MLB tested the changes in the minor leagues in an attempt to measure impact, and commissioner Rob Manfred and his group liked the numbers they found.

“Fans will appreciate the bigger bases which promote player safety and more stolen-base activity,” Theo Epstein, a league consultant, said at MLB’s headquarters in September. “And I think fans will cherish the moments, absent the extreme defensive shifts, when games are decided not by whether their team’s infield is positioned by the perfect algorithm, but by whether their team second baseman can range to make an athletic dive and play with everything on the line.”

Naturally, then, some players’ stocks will rise in the new look, while others’ will fall. Left-handed hitters — who are often significantly hurt by the shift — and base stealers will be more valuable, said Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, “at least in theory.” Hitters for average, as well.

“Everybody would like to get a little faster, a little more athletic, but the bigger bases certainly give you a head start,” Dipoto said. “I don’t know that you have to have Rickey Henderson on your roster to do something, to take a step forward, in a base stealing perspective. But that’s an area where we would like to get better.”

From there, one could theorize that pitchers who are quick to the plate and catchers with the best arms and pop times might become more valuable too.

“It’s a question of, does that rising tide lift all boats, right, or does it disproportionately affect a certain percentage of guys?” Astros general manager James Click said. “Are there a certain group of guys who are always like just two inches shy of a steal that now will be able to steal more bases? If there are guys that are always safe by a 10th of a second, I don’t think it’s going to have much of an effect on them.”

Meanwhile, infielders with more range who can make up some of the ground that used to be covered by the shift could be newly coveted. But it could be more difficult to evaluate the future contributions of a middle infielder if that infielder is coming from a team that heavily shifted in recent years.

“Can’t really do that,” Dipoto said. “But we can, through Statcast data, get a pretty good idea of what that player’s natural range is.”

“I think we’re so good as an industry now and measuring just about everything,” said A’s general manager David Forst. “You see how guys move, you see their reaction time, you see their sprint speed. I think we can make the adjustments.”

Particularly at this moment, before the clubs are working off a pile of major-league-level data, the impact of the rules will be in the eye of the beholder.

Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak thought that between all the rule changes, the effect on his winter would be “pretty minimal.”

“When you look at some guys that had like extremes, that looked like they were more frustrated with the shift than the others, yeah, you can probably pencil in like five or six more hits depending on how frequently they hit,” Mozeliak said. “But overall, I don’t think it’s gonna be like that big of a change.”

“It’s very difficult to predict, especially when so many of these hitters have been in these shifts for so long,” Click said. “You never know what the behavioral effect is going to be when all of a sudden they see a different defensive climate. Are they going to change their approach or not? One of the things I’ve been surprised by in the game is that we haven’t seen, at least in my experience, the pivot from the hitters. You would think that if baseball wanted to encourage guys to put the ball in play, that the best way to do it would be to leave half of the field completely undefended. And we just haven’t seen hitters adjust that way.”

“He was one of the most punished hitters by the shift, and we’re excited for him,” Young said. “I think it’s going to affect every player slightly differently. I think that, in general, the game will adjust, and we’ll factor that into some of our personnel decisions. But by and large, I think that we’re excited for Corey; that should have a positive impact.”

One executive The Athletic approached on Tuesday, Chris Antonetti of the Guardians, didn’t want to discuss the impact on his evaluations at all. Likely, Antonetti declined for the reason GMs and presidents often don’t like to discuss interesting things: because they think it’s a competitive advantage to stay quiet.

Another general manager said he would speak candidly only if he could speak anonymously.

“Defensively with the infielders, at least from our team, it doesn’t seem like a forefront-of-the-conversation type of thing,” the GM said. “Offensively we’re definitely being very mindful of left-handed hitters, and I think it’s gonna benefit hitters. I don’t know if that’s all going to show up in the market this offseason, but whatever is gonna happen, it’s gonna happen here in the next couple years.”

Player evaluation isn’t the only hurdle for teams as spring training approaches. Simply making sure players adequately follow the new rules, particularly the pitch clock, will be its own task.

“The biggest thing will be, how do our key players adjust to the pitch clock?” Mozeliak said. “I’m talking about veteran players. The younger guys that came up, I mean, you watch Nolan Gorman, he never leaves the box. He’s ready to go. So for him, this is business as usual. But I think when you look at some of the older, experienced players, it’s like, how are they going to do it? Watching the World Series or postseason this year, I was just like, uh uh.”

But ultimately, there’s only so much that can be ascertained ahead of time. In a game where so much can be measured, a prediction built on the results of a different environment is just an educated guess.

“We have to stay really humble about what we think we can know before we see 30 teams competing in this new landscape,” Bloom said. “It is likely that there will be some changes with certain guys that are not what we would consider to be the most predictable right now. So I do think we need to do work. And we have done work on how they might affect certain guys. But if we let that distract us from correctly evaluating the fundamental building blocks of good baseball players, I think we are going astray.”

 The Athletic’s Levi Weaver contributed to this story

Alex Patton Alex
Nov 13

Rob Mains at BP on the new category of bullpen arms.

As I’ve written, both in general and specifically regarding the impact on scoring, this year saw far more position players pitching than we’ve ever had in the past. Here’s a chart showing the number of position players[i] pitching every year in the 30-team era.

Managers called on position players to pitch 132 times in 2022. They threw 132 ⅓ innings. The previous highs were 88 appearances (2019, 2021) and 90 ⅓ innings (2019). We didn’t just edge out the prior records. In 2022, there were 50% more position player pitchers, throwing 46% more innings, than ever before.

And they were terrible. Here’s the runs allowed per nine innings for position players since 2013. I used that cutoff because prior to 2013 there were 10 or fewer position player pitching appearances per year.

Position players allowed 10.07 runs per nine innings in 2022. The only years since 2013 in which they were worse were 2018 (11.30 in 61 ⅓ innings) and 2017, barely (10.19 in 32 ⅔ innings). They were far more ubiquitous than ever before. And they were nearly the worst they’ve ever been. That’s not a good combination.

I wondered whether there was a pattern to their usage. In April, with the delayed start to season, there were 317 games played. Six position players—Carson Kelly, Brett Phillips, Dee Strange-Gordon, Wil Myers, Mike Brosseau, and Diego Castillo—pitched in games that month. So there was about one position player pitching appearance every 53 games, roughly one every four days or so. 

This is how it looked the rest of the season. The fewer games, the more frequently teams turned to position players on the mound.

April, it turned out, was an extreme outlier. The two months with the most position players pitching were July (one every 13.9 games) and August (one every 15.0 games). They both had roughly one position player pitching appearance per day! Probably not coincidentally, they were the only two full months in which pitching staffs were capped at 13. That “lack” of arms may have made managers turn to position players more frequently. But position players were used the third-most frequently in September/October, when they appeared once every 16.5 games, and that’s the month that rosters expanded. Using position players on the mound wasn’t solely a product of teams’ allegedly short-handedness.

I said in my headline that there was something weird about position players pitching in 2022. Nothing so far, I’ll bet you’re thinking, qualifies. I think this does.

Position players improved as pitchers every month of the season. In April, they allowed 16.71 runs per nine innings and a 1.419 OPS. By the season’s final month, that was down to 6.15 runs per nine and an .889 OPS. Now, nobody’s going to characterize a 6.15 RA9 or a .889 OPS as good. But it’s better than actual pitchers Mike Minor (6.61 ERA, .903 OPS allowed in 98 innings), Adam Oller (6.30, .916 in 74 ⅓), Elieser Hernandez (6.93, .921 in 62 ⅓), Dallas Keuchel (10.24, .985 in 60 ⅔), Zach Logue (6.95, .918 in 57), and Jeurys Familia (6.90, .908 in 44 ⅓) among pitchers this year with at least 40 innings pitched. 

What appeared to have happened is that teams figured out which position players were the least incompetent, and they used them more. Three position players appeared in at least five games on the mound. Here’s how they did and when they appeared.

Hanser Alberto1011.04.09.6522 May, 1 Jul, 3 Aug, 4 Sep
Kody Clemens77.03.86.8631 Jun, 2 Jul, 1 Aug, 3 Sep
Luis González56.35.68.7473 May, 1 Jul, 1 Sep

Batters hit .213/.269/.383 against Hanser Alberto. He had only a 1:3 K:BB, so he’s not going to be joining the Dodgers bullpen any time soon, but a better-known Dodger reliever allowed a higher RA9, 4.65, and a higher OPS, .675 (.227/.324/.351). 

In general, the more successful position players got more chances to pitch.

Number of GamesPlayersRA9

*but 9.97 if you exclude Josh VanMeter, who pitched three innings, allowing 13 runs and a 1.910 OPS. Five of the 27 batters he faced hit homers. The Buccos can’t even get position player pitching right.

What this holds for next season, I don’t know. Certainly, managers have gotten into the habit of bringing in position players to blowouts, so the 132 we saw this year could get surpassed. Undoubtedly, some of the appearances will be novelty ones, featuring players like Albert Pujols and Franmil Reyes. But teams seem to have developed a sense as to which position players are less likely to be complete embarrassments, and they called on those players more as the season progressed. I’d expect that pattern to continue.

Position player pitching appearances have gone from few-times-per-season comic relief to annoyingly common. The 132 appearances they made this year could very well be eclipsed next season. Thanks to players like Alberto, though, they may be a little less awful.

Alex Patton Alex
Oct 25

FYI -- OOTP 23 (i.e. the release from April) is on sale for half price this week.

Kent Ostby Seadogs
Oct 18

Rule 4.06b kind of prevents a fielder from doing that Seadogs. 

van wilhoite LVW
Oct 10

I definitely expect more managers to run and more stolen base attempts to be safe.  I think batting average goes up as well. Think of all those close outs at 1st ... a lot of those will be safe now.  Good for low power speedsters on both counts.

Kent Ostby Seadogs
Oct 10

And how will the larger bases affect stolen bases?

T.J. Rohr TJRohr
Oct 10

One of the big questions for next year is how to judge players who have been really brutalized by the shift going into a time of less obvious shifting. I say less obvious because there is still going to be a lot of the SS standing just to the right of the bag and then sprinting when the ball is pitched.

Kent Ostby Seadogs
Oct 6

I prefer the scales to be entirely balanced. If I'm giving up $30 over the current year and the next 2, I want $30 back for myself (preferably in the current year if that's what I'm playing for). 

There's no trade I hate more than when you've undersold your keepers. 

Scott Shea SJS
Jun 20

Question for the crowd. If you are in a keeper league, how do you determine fair value if you are trading for this year.  

Sometimes it seems quite obvious -- I must have saves to win and X player is available.


Other times though the trade wouldhelp but isn't an exact match. 

My thinking is that this-years-added-value should be about 3/4 to equal to added-profit of players being traded for "next year" x the amount of years until they'd have to be released unless extended.

Player X at 24 this year adding 18 in value.

Player A at 6 for next two years adding 10 value for a total of 8 PROFIT.
Player B at 5 for next two years adding 11 value.for a total of 12 potential PROFIT.

Future trade value of A & B = 20 POTENTIAL PROFIT. So I'd want to be getting at least 15 to 20 of VALUE for this year.

Kent Ostby Seadogs
Jun 20

Seadogs, I agree. My league (5x5 AL keeper), has been 13 hit, 10 pitch for quite a while. I looked today at unowned players, maybe one hitter I would grab. Pitchers? at least a dozen. That says to me 13 hit, 11 pitchers. Wouldn't hurt to go 12 pitchers if our goal is to support starters. nothing wrong with owning 24 or 25 players as the last guys go for a buck anyway. keep the minimum IP. Stay with the 5x5 we have now.

David Molyneaux NeauxBrainers ()
May 9