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2023 MLB Rule Changes & Potential Fantasy Baseball Impact

by Dan Tursky | @Tan_Dursky | Featured Writer
Jan 29, 2023
Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani was ranked as the slowest “deliverer” of all MLB starting pitchers in 2022.

This year is set to shift the Major League Baseball landscape as we know it. The institution of numerous rule changes will alter games with intentions of league-wide improvement and revamped fan appeal.

2023 MLB Rule Changes & Fantasy Baseball Impact

For a slight rundown and reminder of the revisions headed our way, the main rule changes being implemented for this upcoming Opening Day are as follows:

  • Pitch Timers: Arguably the most significant adjustment comes in the form of 15 and 20-second pitch clocks, dependent upon whether or not there are runners on base. Pitchers will be allowed to step off the mound twice per plate appearance before being penalized. Any subsequent disengagements could result in balks being called by the umpire. This rule should speed up typically elongated games substantially, but at a potential cost to pitchers that find comfort in taking their time.
  • Defensive Shift Restrictions: Gone are the days of the renowned fielder’s shift, as baseball reverts back to its traditional defensive approach. Two infielders will need to be laterally positioned on each side of second base while remaining within the confines of the infield dirt in 2023 and beyond. This application should allow for more offensively-charged games, and will allow recent shift-victimized hitters to potentially return to much-improved offensive seasons.
  • Bigger Bases: Base size is increasing from 15″ to 18″ for the 2023 season. The change is more significant than it may seem at first glance. Not only will this alteration reduce baserunning injuries league-wide, but a nearly 5-inch reduction in base-to-base distance will undoubtedly lead to more steal attempts and general aggression on the basepaths.

The changes being made for the upcoming campaign are important for the resurrection of the sport of baseball in every facet. These advancements will also pose compelling nuances to the game of Fantasy Baseball, and provide an edge for drafters that take advantage of this information. Let’s take a look at some players that could benefit from the new regulations in 2023.

Pitch Timers

Shohei Ohtani (RHP – LAA)

One of the most polarizing figures in the sport, Ohtani was also ranked as the slowest “deliverer” out of all starting pitchers in the MLB in 2022. The Japanese phenom averaged 15.7 seconds per pitch without runners on base and 20.9 seconds with a runner(s) on, both over the upcoming 2023 threshold limit. Ohtani will need to be able to make an adjustment on his timing going forward, and it remains to be seen if it will affect his production in any sort of significant fashion. Ohtani posted a phenomenal 2.33 ERA and led the MLB with an 11.9 K/9 last season. While the change he will have to make this Spring is worth noting, it would be shocking to see “Shotime’s” pitching numbers suffer drastically. He quite obviously remains a top pick in fantasy leagues nationwide.

Corbin Burnes (RHP – MIL) 

Burnes is another example of a starter that will need to slightly alter his routine in between pitches for 2023. Last season, the perennial Cy Young candidate clocked in just over the imposed limits set for the upcoming campaign and he was ranked just behind Ohtani in terms of tempo. Of course, Burnes also hurls in Miller Park, one of the least friendly environments for pitchers league-wide. It will be interesting to see if Burnes struggles a bit more this season, particularly at home, when he is forced to rush his mechanics in-game.

Honorable Mentions

Defensive Shift Restrictions

Cal Raleigh (C – SEA)

Raleigh’s wOBA splits jump off the page when facing the shift (.330) in 2022 versus a straight up defense (.419). The Seattle backstop was shifted on an astounding 96.2% of his plate appearances last season, good for top-5 in that metric throughout the entire league. The results painted a picture that one would expect- a .211 batting average with a .284 OBP, yet Raleigh also mashed 27 HR and 48 XBH. Raleigh could be an all-time benefiter of the shift being removed in 2023. More holes in the outfield should allow him to improve on his average significantly, and we already know the type of power he possesses. Raleigh is looking like a value pick at his current ADP, which is essentially undrafted in many leagues.

Seth Brown (OF/1B – OAK)

Another fascinating player to look at given the shift removal is Seth Brown. Similar to the aforementioned Raleigh, Brown had a career year by most accounts despite encountering the shift on 88.6% of his plate appearances. He saw a 79-point jump in wOBA when facing a straight up defensive alignment (63 PAs). With the 2023 outfield landscape looking increasingly desolate, Brown could be a fantastic option to tack onto the end of fantasy teams in the later rounds, especially given his projection to remain as the three or four hitter for Oakland.

Honorable Mentions

Bigger Bases

Whit Merrifield (2B/OF – TOR)

Merrifield could find himself a major benefactor of the larger bases being incorporated in 2023. The former Kansas City standout is a prime bounce back candidate in his first full season with Toronto, and he should be playing in one of the league’s most potent offenses. Merrifield posted career-lows in both batting average and OBP in 2022, but most of that lack of production came in his 95 games with the Royals. Once moved to Toronto he accumulated an improved .281 average and .323 OBP. Merrifield finished with just 16 steals in 2022 but he is just one year removed from leading the AL in swipes and he has led the MLB on two other occasions. The 34-year-old should be able to jump out of the gates in April and improve on his baserunning numbers dramatically.

Bobby Witt Jr. (SS/3B – KC)

Speaking of the Royals, their standout top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. would have won the AL ROY in 2022 if not for an otherworldly season by Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez. Witt was phenomenal by all accounts, and led all rookies with 30 stolen bases, which was good for sixth overall in the MLB. The 22-year-old also posted the fourth best sprint speed in the league according to Statcast, leaving a ton of room for improvement in year two. Betting on Witt to lead all of baseball in stolen bases this season cannot be considered a “bold call,” and he is as likely to accomplish the feat as anyone. His fantasy value should skyrocket even further given the rule change.

Honorable Mentions

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