Insomnia has struck tonight, but the plus side of it is that I was able to listen to the last 3.5 innings of the first official game of the World Baseball Classic. The Netherlands has defeated Cuba to kick things off, and in just a few short hours, Chinese Taipei will be taking on Panama.
There’s been a lot of talk about the new rules going into effect for Major League Baseball’s 2023 season. With Opening Day just over a month away, it seems like a good time to take a look at these updates here.
This year, the size of first base, second base, and third base is increasing from 15 inches to 18 inches square. This, in effect, decreases the distance between bases by 4.5 inches. One argument in favor of this change is that it will create more excitement, with closer plays at each base. The league believes that the larger bases will also decrease injuries, which seems like a more plausible explanation.
My thoughts: I can’t help but wonder how necessary this really is. I have heard the new bases getting compared to pizza boxes, which seems a bit excessive to me. When I played softball in high school, there was a “safety base” at first base — a double base that allowed the runner to run through the exterior base while the first baseman fielded the throw from the interior base. I think I would rather see the double base implemented at first over the bigger bases all around the infield. Is there a greater injury risk with the smaller bases? Sure, I agree that’s probably true. I guess I’m opposed to this change in the same way I oppose the restriction on sliding into fielders to break up a double play. It takes away from the game, in a way.
On the other hand, some proponents point out this could mean an increase in stolen bases. As a fan of small ball, if this turns out to be true and the game becomes more exciting as a result, I might become a convert.
Restrictions on defensive shifts
Going forward, we will no longer see defensive shifts where the shortstop or the third baseman plays on the first base side of second base. With the new restrictions, two infielders are required to remain positioned on each side of second base. Furthermore, infielders must have both feet situated within the boundaries of the infield — no more second basemen playing shallow right field. What’s more, players cannot switch positions unless a substitution is made. Therefore, a team’s second baseman and shortstop must stay in their positions — they are not interchangeable for the sake of putting the better defender in position to field a batted ball.
My thoughts: At first, I was very much against this. In his book, The Science of Hitting, Ted Williams argues that it is up to the batter to adjust to the shift, and that made perfect sense to me. But then I saw this tweet about the decline of batting averages in recent years, and I realize that perhaps the shift has become a little too effective, and maybe it is time to bring a little bit of a spark back to small ball.
The pitch clock
In the same way that basketball has a shot clock and football has a play clock, baseball now has a pitch clock. Between batters, the pitch clock is set to 30 seconds before the pitcher must begin his motion. When bases are empty, the clock sets a limit of 15 seconds between pitches. When runners are on base, this limit is 20 seconds. If there is a delay that is determined to be the pitcher’s fault, a ball is added to the batter’s count. If umpires determine a delay is the batter’s fault, then a strike is added to the count.
The rule also limits hitters to one timeout per plate appearance and allows pitchers to step off the rubber twice per plate appearance, at which point the clock resets. This essentially puts a limit on the number of pickoff attempts a pitcher can make, which will hinder pitchers’ ability to prevent stolen bases. You’re able to make a third pickoff attempt, but if you don’t get the runner out, it’s a balk, and the runner advances automatically.
My thoughts: I am a bigger fan of this change than I thought I would be. As much as I love baseball, even I can find the 3 1/2-hour games a bit cumbersome. Maybe that’s just my millennial attention span speaking, but I don’t think so. Back in the day, baseball games were played in as little as 51 minutes. Granted, a lot of the delay in today’s games are due to commercials, ballpark entertainment, and other advertising bull, but I do think that it is a good time to inject a little pickup into the pace of the game itself.
I re-watched Moneyball this weekend, the movie based on the book by Michael Lewis with the same title. Moneyball tells the story of Billy Beane and Peter Brand during the 2002 season, and how they used a sabermetric approach to build a winning team on a limited budget.
Following the 2001 season, the Oakland A’s lost Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi and Jason Isringhausen to free agency, and general manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, finds himself needing to replace them. During a scouting trip to Cleveland, Beane meets Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), a Yale economics graduate who impresses Beane with his statistical analyses of ballplayers.
With Brand’s help, Beane built a low-budget team by focusing on players’ stats, such as on-base percentage. The start of the season was predictably rough, with the A’s finding themselves ten games back. Beane convinces team owner Stephen Schott to stick with the plan, and Beane then trades Giambi to the Phillies for John Mabry and Carlos Peña to the Tigers, leaving manager Art Howe no choice but to use the team Beane and Brand have designed. Three weeks later, the Athletics are only four games behind first.
The A’s launch into a winning streak that culminates in a dramatic victory over the Kansas City Royals, in which the A’s achieve a then record-breaking 20th consecutive win. The team falls short in the playoffs, however, when they lose to the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS.
Recognizing that sabermetrics is the future of baseball, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry first hires Bill James to the organization, then offers Billy Beane a $12.5 million salary to join Boston as well. Peter Brand tries to persuade Beane that he is worth the offer, however, not wanting to leave his daughter behind, Beane ultimately turns it down to stay with Oakland.
As a movie, I enjoy Moneyball. It’s dramatic, emotional, and there’s lots and lots of baseball. It sheds light on the idea behind sabermetrics. Critics argue that the movie is not an entirely accurate depiction of real-life events, excluding key players and portraying various relationships in a slanted light. It seems to me that the transition from real-life-story-to-movie presents the same challenges as book-to-movie situations: there’s just no way to be 100% true to the original without creating an hours-long film. As with any movie based on real life (or on a book), it’s worth doing your own research on the side in addition to enjoying the cinematic experience.
On February 11, 2001 at 8:03 a.m., Three Rivers Stadium was imploded using 4,800 pounds of dynamite in 2,500 spots placed throughout the former home of the Pirates and NFL’s Steelers. Over 20,000 people viewed the implosion from Point State Park, and thousands more watched from various points throughout Pittsburgh. Roberto Clemente’s 3,000th hit and Mike Schmidt’s 500th career home run are part of the historic legacy of the 30-year-old sports venue.
MLB posted a graphic on their social media recently listing game times for Opening Day, which serves as a lovely reminder that pitchers and catchers report in about two weeks, and we are less than two months away from baseball’s official return.
The philosophies of Stoicism and Zen Buddhism have piqued my interest lately, so when I discovered that Shawn Green had a book about his experiences with Zen while playing baseball, I had to check it out. The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness At 95 MPH is a hell of a catchy title, and in this short tome, Green talks about his experiences with finding Zen and stillness throughout his major league career.
Green mentions that he had had some previous interest in Eastern philosophies, but it was during his struggles at the plate early in his career in Toronto that he discovered how it could be applied in baseball. Green talks about hitting off the tee, repeatedly over weeks and weeks until it became a form of meditation. Hence forth, tee hitting became a staple in Green’s career.
When Green made the move from Toronto to the bigger stage in Los Angeles, he lost his hold on the stillness he had found with the Blue Jays. With a big contract and big expectations, Green found himself ruled by ego, pressuring himself to hit home runs, rather than just letting them happen. Consequently, his first year in LA turned out to be a disastrous season, and Green talks about the work it took to let go of the ego and return to stillness.
It’s a fascinating book, overall. If you’re familiar with the fundamentals of Zen, you won’t learn anything new about the philosophy in this book. It is interesting, however, to see those ideas applied to baseball. The book is short and a fairly easy read, too. If this kind of thing interests you, this one’s worth reading.